Jury selection has kicked off in the trial of Sam Bankman-Fried, the crypto currency entrepreneur facing allegations of embezzling billions from FTX exchange customers. Federal prosecutors have brought seven counts of fraud and conspiracy against Bankman-Fried, claiming he misappropriated funds from FTX clients to support his Alameda Research hedge fund, make property investments, and donate millions to US politicians. The accused has pleaded not guilty.
Prospective jurors began arriving at the Manhattan federal courthouse, where a panel of 12 will ultimately be selected for the trial. US District Judge Lewis Kaplan emphasized the importance of choosing individuals who can decide the case fairly and impartially based solely on the evidence.
The trial is anticipated to span six weeks and will include testimony from three former associates of Bankman-Fried who have already admitted to fraud.
FTX, once a prominent digital cryptocurrency exchange platform, generated revenue through trade fees. At its peak, it held a valuation exceeding $32 billion and secured naming rights for the NBA’s Miami Heat stadium, as well as endorsements from celebrities like Kevin O’Leary from “Shark Tank” and NFL star Tom Brady.
Bankman-Fried also made substantial contributions to both Democratic and Republican fundraising committees. Records from the Federal Elections Commission reveal that his Alameda Research fund donated millions to a political action committee supporting then-candidate Joe Biden in 2010. Other beneficiaries of Bankman-Fried’s donations included US senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Susan Collins, Cory Booker, and Lisa Murkowski. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and some others who received funds either returned them or directed them to charity.
Bankman-Fried’s empire crumbled last year following a report that raised questions about the close ties between FTX and Alameda Research. This triggered a wave of customer withdrawals, leading to FTX filing for bankruptcy after incurring losses of over $6 billion. Bankman-Fried resigned as the company’s CEO. He was subsequently arrested in the Bahamas and extradited to the US, where he faced charges of fraud and conspiracy.
While Bankman-Fried has acknowledged shortcomings in risk management, he vehemently denies embezzling funds from customers. His defense is expected to assert that the witnesses testifying against him are doing so in hopes of receiving more lenient sentences.
Furthermore, the defense is anticipated to present an “advice of counsel” argument, suggesting that Bankman-Fried did not knowingly commit fraud and had relied on advice from the company’s legal team. Judge Lewis Kaplan recently ruled that this argument could not be included in the defense’s opening statements to prevent potential jury bias.
Bankman-Fried has been in detention at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Centre since August due to alleged bail violations and attempts to influence witnesses. If convicted, he faces the prospect of decades in prison.
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