Some of the biggest moments of the Sam Bankman-Fried trial—so far

Some of the biggest moments of the Sam Bankman-Fried trial—so far

While it’s only been going on for a little under two weeks, the trial of Sam Bankman-Fried has already had more revelations and shockers than a whole season of Succession.

Award-winning journalist Stephanie Clifford has been in the federal courtroom each day, documenting the trial and offering an inside look at the proceedings for Fast Company. (She also has a great primer on what happened at FTX leading up to Bankman-Fried’s arrest and why his parents are being sued, to get you up to speed.)

If you’ve been unable to keep up with all of the goings-on, here are some of the highlights so far:

Former FTX employees paint a clear picture of SBF pulling all the strings

Gary Wang, cofounder of FTX and Alameda Research with Bankman-Fried, was among the first former SBF allies to detail the behind-the-scenes actions at the companies. While FTX claimed to give all customers, including Alameda, equal privileges, the reality was much different, he said, describing how Bankman-Fried directed him to create a cheat code that would allow Alameda to withdraw billions in FTX customer funds.

“As Wang explained it, a regular customer with $10 on the exchange could only withdraw $10, but if Alameda had $10 on the exchange, it could withdraw $1,000, for instance,” wrote Clifford. “But it went into the negative a whole lot further than that.” (Wang and others also offered a look at life inside the $35 million penthouse in the Bahamas where Bankman-Fried and his pals at FTX lived.)

Meanwhile, Caroline Ellison, Bankman-Fried’s ex-girlfriend and the ex-CEO of his Alameda hedge fund, said she was directed by him to use customer funds, adding he “said that FTX would be a good source of capital, and he set up the system” allowing Alameda to borrow the money without customers’ knowledge.

Ellison, who shared additional details about the couple’s relationship, proved a more-than-adequate foil for Bankman-Fried’s attorneys in cross-examination as well, correcting them on some points. 

Alleged bribes and Thai prostitutes

The testimony of Ellison was wide-ranging and often pretty damning against Bankman-Fried. She discussed her constant fear of customer withdrawals and the impact that would have.

She also discussed the $1 billion in Alameda assets that had been frozen by Chinese exchanges—and the lengths to which she claims Bankman-Fried went to unlock them.

As Clifford reported: “Alameda paid, with Bankman-Fried’s knowledge, ‘what I believe was a large bribe to Chinese officials to get’ that money unlocked in 2021, Ellison said. Before paying the officials a figure she estimated at around $150 million, one executive tried getting the money unfrozen by creating accounts on the exchange in the names ‘of people who I believe were Thai prostitutes,’ said Ellison.”

Bankman-Fried’s new look

Ellison told the court that Bankman-Fried’s tousled appearance, including his messy mop of hair, was a very intentional look, designed to paint him as an eccentric founder. He felt he’d gotten higher bonuses at Jane Street, where he worked prior to FTX, “because of his hair,” she testified.

The look in front of the jury, though, is much different. Bankman-Fried now sports a close-cropped haircut and has traded in his cargo shorts and wrinkled T-shirts for a suit and tie. And rather than fidgeting throughout the proceedings, he has been still, almost mannequin-like, wrote Clifford.

Bankman-Fried’s political ambitions

While the FTX founder was long-known to be a heavy political contributor (who even, allegedly, attempted to pay Donald Trump $6 billion not to run again), Caroline Ellison’s testimony at the trial revealed more about Bankman Fried’s thinking. For instance, a $10 million contribution to Joe Biden was, in his eyes, a “small amount,” she said.

As it turns out, Bankman-Fried might also have had some political ambitions of his own.

As Clifford reported, “‘He thought there was a 5% chance he would become president one day,’ Ellison testified. He also had a high risk tolerance, she said: ‘He would be happy to flip a coin and if it came up tails the world would be destroyed; as long as if it came up heads, the world would be twice as good.’”

“Pharma Bro” shows up at SBF’s trial

Martin Shkreli, who was convicted and imprisoned on federal fraud charges (and released earlier this year), made a surprise cameo at Bankman-Fried’s trial on Wednesday, watching the proceedings from an overflow location. Accompanying him was crypto influencer Tiffany Fong.

“While Bankman-Fried showed marked self-control at Wednesday’s proceedings—no fidgets, barely even moved—Shkreli looked exactly like he had when I observed him at his own trial,” wrote Clifford. “He shifted. He slouched. He scratched. He took notes. He tugged at his hair and made faces (at testimony about ‘doge currency’ and at a cheery booster video from FTX). He shook his head in amusement at a minor prosecution fumble. He read a book when he was bored. Mostly, though, he appeared quite entertained, resting his hand on his chin, smiling, and watching as though he were watching a great episode of a favorite show.”

There are likely plenty more surprises looming. The trial is expected to last up to six weeks. If convicted on all seven of the counts against him, Bankman-Fried could face up to 110 years in prison.