Will Sam Bankman-Fried fix his case when he takes the stand?

    2023.10.26 | exchangesranking | 823onlookers

    Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) had a lot going against him well before the start of his criminal trial: the ire of many in the crypto space, suspicion from United States policymakers, and negative attention from some in the media looking for clickbait angles to associate with the former FTX CEO. 

    None of that may have had any impact on the case his attorneys planned to present at trial, which so far doesn’t seem to have given jurors much of anything to counter the bulk of the narrative put forth by prosecutors. With few exceptions, the testimonies from witnesses for the Justice Department have been straightforward even for those unfamiliar with the intricacies of crypto trading and investments.

    Former Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison provided statements admitting to providing fudged numbers while former FTX Chief Technology Officer Gary Wang claimed SBF directed efforts to allow Alameda to “withdraw unlimited funds.” Former FTX engineering director Nishad Singh also testified regarding the “excessive” purchases Alameda made in endorsements from celebrities.

    Related: Michael Lewis' new book puts a positive spin on Sam Bankman-Fried

    "[Sam] said he was willing to take large coin flips," Ellison told jurors on Oct. 10, regarding investment risks. "He talked about being willing to flip a coin and destroy the world, as long as a win would make it twice as good.”

    Through the court proceedings, defense lawyers Mark Cohen and Christian Everdell frequently called for objections and sidebars — a time when counsel can address the judge without the jury hearing — but rarely seemed to pose questions to witnesses that would significantly help SBF’s case or sway the jury. Jurors have already heard testimony painting SBF as the instigator behind efforts for Alameda to use FTX customer funds without users’ knowledge.

    Related: Sam Bankman-Fried trial moves to final stages

    One of the few holes defense lawyers were able to poke in Singh’s testimony was him admitting to being a little fuzzy on details in 2022 ahead of FTX’s bankruptcy and taking his own loan to purchase a vacation home. After laying out their case in opening arguments on Oct. 4, Cohen and Everdell suggested they would present evidence pointing the finger at Ellison for much of the criminal acts. However, as Ellison, Wang, and Singh all accepted plea deals and told parallel versions of the same story, SBF lawyers’ cross-examination came across as milquetoast.

    Soon SBF’s legal team will be the one calling witnesses, which we learned on Oct. 25 will include the former FTX CEO himself. The only reason to call Bankman-Fried to the stand in his defense would be to bolster his case, and that means having jurors believe SBF, a socially awkward “math nerd” according to his own lawyers, over his colleagues. While potentially testifying that he “did what [he] thought was right” might be personally satisfying to SBF, it doesn’t seem to help defend his actions, let alone inure jurors to his plight.

    There's been an astonishing contrast between the pre-arrest and mid-trial personas of Bankman-Fried. The former CEO used to have regular interviews with major media outlets, wasn't shy about tweeting his thoughts on the crypto market, and was considered by many to one of the most popular figures in the space.

    Now, following his path to jail, SBF has gone from freedom in The Bahamas to home confinement with limited internet, to the point where few people have actually heard his voice or seen a photo of him in months — cameras generally aren't allowed in the courtroom, and getting a snapshot of him from jail is unlikely. The former CEO has trimmed his hair and regularly wears a suit and tie to court, something many would have found unthinkable a year ago. 

    SBF’s attorneys and New York prosecutors are on hiatus until Oct. 26, when court proceedings will resume. The defense team has suggested it could call up to three witnesses — four, including Bankman-Fried — compared to the roughly 20 people called by prosecutors. This strategy, according to Cohen, will only take a few days to present to the jury, after which time closing arguments will begin.

    Defense attorneys have their work cut out for them.

    Turner Wright is a policy reporter at Cointelegraph.

    This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal or investment advice. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.

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