FTX crypto-crook Sam Bankman-Fried gets 25 years in prison

Could have been worse: Prosecutors wanted decades more

Fallen crypto-king Sam Bankman-Fried has been jailed for 25 years after New York federal judge Lewis Kaplan expressed disbelief at almost every argument from his legal team.

The mastermind behind one of the largest cases of corporate fraud in US history was convicted on seven charges (conspiracy to commit wire fraud on customers and lenders, actual wire fraud on the same, and conspiracies to commit commodities fraud, securities fraud and money laundering) in early November last year, and has been behind bars ever since.

Bankman-Fried, more commonly known by the moniker SBF, was CEO and co-founder of collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX, as well as the cofounder of Alameda Research, a hedge fund that quietly used FTX customers' holdings to bet big on various ventures.

Alameda and FTX's commingling of customer cash and other funds to make risky and questionable investments came to light when the interconnected companies ultimately collapsed. As more and more people realized Alameda was built on the value of homegrown crypto-tokens that FTX invented and controlled, putting the hedge fund on rather shaky ground financially, customers started trying to pull their money out of the exchange, which drove the outfit into bankruptcy.

Since liquidators have taken control of FTX the forensics have uncovered little to no oversight of funds and leadership regularly embezzled funds. More than $8 billion in cryptocurrency was unaccounted for when FTX collapsed in 2022.

The maximum penalty SBF could have faced for his crimes was 110 years. Prosecutors recommended the judge sentence him to 40 to 50 years, while SBF's own attorneys asked for just six years or so behind bars. 

Along with facing as much as a quarter of a century in prison, SBF was ordered to cough up $11 billion, which will hopefully go toward paying back FTX's victims.

Marc Mukasey and Torrey Young, SBF's lawyers, told the court in a sentencing memorandum [PDF] that SBF was far from the "depraved super-villain" that prosecutors painted him as. They argued that SBF didn't deserve to spend decades in prison since customer funds are allegedly in the process of being recovered; that he was a first time, non-violent offender unlikely to commit more crimes; and that he's not the unrepentant monster prosecutors depicted at trial.

Victim impact letters and statements from FTX's current leadership paint a very different picture, however.

One of the claims that SBF has made repeatedly since he was charged was that FTX was solvent, which was why debtors could all be repaid. John Ray, current FTX CEO who is overseeing the company's liquidation, that's not at all true, particularly the point about customers being able to get their cryptocurrency totals back. 

"Bankman-Fried continues to live a life of delusion," Ray said in his memorandum [PDF] to the judge. "I can assure the court that [SBF's] statements [are] categorically, callously, and demonstrably false." 

"Even the best conceivable outcome in the Chapter 11 proceeding will not yield a true, full economic recovery by all creditors and non-insider equity investors as if the fraud never happened," Ray added. He noted that, when taking over leadership of FTX, the company only had 105 BTC left on the exchange against customer entitlements of nearly 100,000 BTC. 

"Why were the Bitcoins missing?  A jury has concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Bankman-Fried stole them and converted them into other things," Ray said. "For that reason, they are not available to be returned in-kind to his victims."

There's no shortage of victim impact statements filed after SBF's conviction that paint pictures of financial ruin for FTX customers, many of whom believe they'll never see full compensation for their losses. They describe the emotional toll the collapse took on them, with hundreds of thousands of lost investments. Others support Ray's claims that SBF is lying about not having caused harm, urging the judge to reject the defense's argument for a pittance of a sentence. 

Live-tweeting of the proceedings by Inner City Press's Matthew Russell Lee, who has documented the case extensively, show that Judge Kaplan was unimpressed with the defense's arguments. 

"I reject the defense's argument about loss, both on the law and on the facts. The assertion that customers and creditors will be paid in full is misleading," Kaplan said, per the ICP feed from New York City. "For the reasons well articulated by Mr Ray, that people will be paid back is speculative." 

Judge Kaplan also said SBF committed perjury while on the stand on multiple occasions, including lying about knowledge of the missing $8 billion in crypto and saying he didn't know that Alameda had to borrow customer money from FTX to repay third-party loans. Kaplan also concluded that SBF committed witness tampering prior to being sent to jail over accusations of such. 

We asked SBF's lawyers for comment on his sentence and appeal plans mentioned in court, and haven't yet heard back. ®


In the court minutes it was revealed SBF may be too awkward for real prison. As the judge noted:

The court declines to order restitution due to the complexity of the case and the number of victims. It instead grants the government's motion to authorize the United States to compensate victims with finally forfeited assets through a remission process, as restitution would be impractical in this case.

The court recommends to the Bureau of Prisons that defendant be designated initially to a medium security facility in view of the court's perception that defendant's notoriety, his association with vast wealth, his autism and social awkwardness are likely to make him more than usually vulnerable in the environment of a high security facility. It further recommends that the designated facility be as close to the San Francisco - Bay Area as possible.

Social awkwardness for the win. For once.

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