|Intro||American cryptocurrency entrepreneur and alleged fraudster|
|Is||Businessperson Business executive Entrepreneur Investor Criminal Con artist|
|From||United States of America|
|Birth||6 March 1992, Stanford, Santa Clara County, California, USA|
|Residence||The Bahamas; Hong Kong, People's Republic of China; Palo Alto, Santa Clara County, California, USA|
Samuel Benjamin Bankman-Fried (born March 6, 1992), or SBF, is an American convicted fraudster and former cryptocurrency entrepreneur. Bankman-Fried was the founder and CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX and associated trading firm Alameda Research, both of which experienced a high-profile collapse resulting in chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 2022.
Prior to FTX's collapse, Bankman-Fried was ranked the 41st richest American in the Forbes 400, and the 60th richest person in world by The World's Billionaires. His net worth peaked at $26 billion. By November 11, 2022, amid the bankruptcy of FTX, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index considered his net worth to have been reduced to zero. Before his wealth evaporated, Bankman-Fried was a major donor to US political campaigns, donating openly to Democratic candidates as well as claiming that he planned to spend around $1 billion in the 2024 U.S. presidential election.
On December 12, 2022, Bankman-Fried was arrested in The Bahamas and was subsequently extradited to the United States. An indictment of him before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York was unsealed on December 13, revealing eight criminal charges for offenses including wire fraud, commodities fraud, securities fraud, money laundering, and campaign finance law violations. An additional four charges were announced in February 2023. On December 22, Bankman-Fried was released on a $250 million bond, on condition that he reside at his parents' home in California. On August 11, 2023, his bail was revoked over alleged attempts at witness tampering and he was returned to detention. His first trial began on October 3, 2023; a second trial is scheduled for March 2024.
Bankman-Fried was convicted of seven counts of fraud and conspiracy, on November 2, 2023.
Early life and education
Bankman-Fried was born on March 6, 1992, on the campus of Stanford University. He is the son of Barbara Fried and Joseph Bankman, both professors at Stanford Law School. His aunt Linda P. Fried is the dean of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. His brother, Gabriel Bankman-Fried, is a former Wall Street trader and the former director of the non-profit Guarding Against Pandemics and its associated political action committee.
Bankman-Fried attended Canada/USA Mathcamp, a summer program for mathematically talented high-school students. He attended high school at Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough, California. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in physics and a minor in mathematics. As an MIT student he lived in a coeducational group house called Epsilon Theta.
In the summer of 2013, Bankman-Fried worked as an intern at Jane Street Capital, a proprietary trading firm, trading international ETFs. He returned to work there full-time after graduation from MIT.
In September 2017, Bankman-Fried left Jane Street and moved to Berkeley, California, where he worked briefly at the Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) as director of development from October to November 2017. In November 2017, following fund injections from billionaire computer programmer Jaan Tallinn and investor Luke Ding, Bankman-Fried and CEA's Tara Mac Aulay co-founded the quantitative trading firm Alameda Research. As of 2021, Bankman-Fried owned approximately 90 percent of Alameda Research. In January 2018, Bankman-Fried organized an arbitrage trade, moving up to $25 million per day, to take advantage of the higher price of bitcoin in Japan compared to the United States. After attending a late 2018 cryptocurrency conference in Macau, he moved to Hong Kong.
Bankman-Fried founded the FTX cryptocurrency derivatives exchange in April 2019; it opened for business the following month. On December 8, 2021, Bankman-Fried, along with other industry executives, testified before the Committee on Financial Services about regulating the cryptocurrency industry. On May 12, 2022, it was disclosed that Emergent Fidelity Technologies Ltd., which is majority owned by Bankman-Fried, had bought 7.6 percent of Robinhood Markets stock. In a November 2022 affidavit before the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, and prior to his arrest, Bankman-Fried said he and FTX co-founder Gary Wang together borrowed over $546 million from Alameda Research in order to finance Emergent Fidelity Technologies' purchase of Robinhood Markets stock.
In September 2022, it was reported that Bankman-Fried's advisors had offered on his behalf to help fund Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter. According to messages released as part of the lawsuit between Twitter and Musk during the latter's acquisition of Twitter, on April 25, 2022, investment banker Michael Grimes wrote that Bankman-Fried would be willing to commit up to $5 billion. No investment actually took place when Musk finalized the acquisition. Bankman-Fried invested $500 million in Anthropic and more than $500 million in venture capital firms, including $200 million in Sequoia Capital, itself an investor in FTX. Sequoia published a "glowing" profile of Bankman-Fried which it subsequently removed after the solvency crisis at FTX.
In July 2023, allegations emerged that Bankman-Fried had considered "purchasing" the island country of Nauru to use as a bunker in the event of an apocalyptic event, in what has been described as a "misguided and sometimes dystopian" project.
Views on charity and market regulation
Bankman-Fried has publicly stated he supports effective altruism, contending that he was pursuing "earning to give" as an "altruistic career." He claimed to make donations "not based on personal interest but on the projects that are proven by data to be the most effective at helping people," such as those that reduced existential risks like nuclear war, pandemics, artificial intelligence, and threats to American democracy.
He was a member of Giving What We Can and donated around half of his Jane Street salary to charity. In June 2022, he signed The Giving Pledge; his name was removed from the list in December 2022 following his arrest.
Bankman-Fried is the founder of Future Fund, whose team included Scottish philosopher and author William MacAskill, one of the founders of the effective altruism movement. After the collapse of FTX, all members of Future Fund simultaneously resigned. As of September 1, 2022, Future Fund stated it had committed around $160 million to 110 non-profits.
The stated reason for FTX's relocation to The Bahamas was the friendly regulatory environment and Bankman-Fried openly discussed paying off the country's $9 billion national debt. In November 2022, Bankman-Fried stated in a Twitter conversation with Vox writer Kelsey Piper that the appearance that he and his company displayed of welcoming regulation and promoting the need for regulators to keep a close eye on cryptocurrency markets was not sincere, and was "just PR", adding that regulators "make everything worse" and "don't protect customers at all". On being asked about his "ethics stuff", he agreed it was "mostly a front" and described ethics as a "dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shibboleths and so everyone likes us". (He later claimed to have been referring to ESG, CSR, and greenwashing, as opposed to effective altruism, bed nets, and pandemic prevention.)
Bankruptcy of FTX
In November 2022, Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao revealed on Twitter that his firm intended to sell its holdings of FTT, FTX's token. Binance received $529 million worth of FTT as part of a sale of its equity in FTX in 2021. Zhao published his tweet soon after a report from CoinDesk stating that the bulk of the holdings of Alameda, Bankman-Fried's trading firm, were in FTT. Bloomberg and TechCrunch reported that any sale by Binance would likely have an outsize impact on FTT's price due to the token's low trading volume. The announcement by Zhao of the pending sale and disputes between Zhao and Bankman-Fried on Twitter led to a decline in the price of FTT and other cryptocurrencies. Shortly before, Zhao had criticized Bankman-Fried's lobbying efforts.
On November 8, Zhao announced that Binance had entered into a non-binding agreement to purchase FTX due to a liquidity crisis at FTX. Zhao stated that Binance would complete due diligence soon and that all crypto exchanges should avoid using tokens as collateral. He also wrote that he expected FTT to be "highly volatile in the coming days as things develop". On the day of the announcement, FTT lost 80 percent of its value. On November 9, the Wall Street Journal reported that Binance had decided not to acquire FTX. Binance cited reports of FTX's mishandling of customer funds and pending investigations of FTX as the reasons the firm would not pursue the deal. Amid the crisis, Bankman-Fried was no longer a billionaire, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The very next day, Bloomberg reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission were investigating FTX and the nature of its connections to Bankman-Fried's other holdings.
On November 11, 2022, FTX, Alameda Research, and more than 130 associated legal entities declared bankruptcy.
Anonymous sources cited by Reuters stated that, earlier in 2022, Bankman-Fried had transferred at least $4 billion from FTX to Alameda Research, without any disclosure to the companies' insiders or the public. The sources said that the money transferred included customer funds, and that it was ostensibly backed by FTT and shares in Robinhood. An anonymous source cited by the Wall Street Journal stated that Bankman-Fried had disclosed that Alameda owed FTX about $10 billion which was secured through customer funds held by FTX when FTX had, at the time, $16 billion in customer assets. According to anonymous sources cited by the Wall Street Journal, the Chief Executive of Alameda Research Caroline Ellison told employees that Bankman-Fried was aware that FTX had lent its customers’ money to Alameda to help it meet its liabilities.
Bankman-Fried, who'd been listed the year before among Forbes 30 Under 30, resigned as CEO of FTX on November 11, 2022, and was immediately replaced by John J. Ray III who, from 2004 to 2009, had chaired the effort to recover Enron assets for creditors through litigation against numerous banks, in the Enron bankruptcy. FTX and related entities filed for bankruptcy in Delaware on the same day.
One day after FTX declared bankruptcy, on November 12, Bankman-Fried was interviewed by the Royal Bahamas Police Force. On November 17, Ray stated in a sworn declaration submitted in bankruptcy court that according to the firm's records, Alameda Research had lent $1 billion to Bankman-Fried, adding, "Never in my career have I seen such a complete failure of corporate controls and such a complete absence of trustworthy financial information".
In the testimony Bankman-Fried had prepared to present in December 2022 to the House Financial Services Committee, he maintained that "[FTX] is solvent" but he was "pressured" by FTX.US general counsel and former partner at the Sullivan & Cromwell law firm, Ryne Miller, to declare bankruptcy. He also implied that the managing team and the law firms managing the bankruptcy are using the Enron precedent in an effort to reap inordinately large amounts of fees from the process. After his arrest and imprisonment, he did not get to testify in Congress and John J. Ray III testified instead.
Arrest and charges
On December 12, 2022, Bankman-Fried was arrested shortly after 6 p.m. in his apartment complex in The Bahamas by the Royal Bahamas Police Force, with the expectation that he would be extradited to the United States to face trial. The arrest took place the day before Bankman-Fried was scheduled to appear before the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services, but Forbes obtained and published his prepared testimony.
Earlier that day, the Southern District of New York had charged Bankman-Fried with "wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy, securities fraud, securities fraud conspiracy, and money laundering". Philip Davis, the Prime Minister of The Bahamas, commented on the arrest that "The Bahamas and the United States have a shared interest in holding accountable all individuals associated with FTX who may have betrayed the public trust and broken the law ... [W]hile the United States is pursuing criminal charges against SBF individually, The Bahamas will continue its own regulatory and criminal investigations into the collapse of FTX". Bankman-Fried would face a maximum of 115 years in prison if convicted on all eight counts and sentenced to serve each charge consecutively. Braden Perry, a former senior trial lawyer at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, opined that a conviction on any of the charges might result in a prison sentence of years or decades.
After being held at Fox Hill Prison in Nassau for ten days, Bankman-Fried consented to his extradition from The Bahamas to the United States to face charges. He was allowed to remain free on a $250 million bond, the largest such bond ever set in an American criminal proceeding. Among the conditions was that he would stay at his parents' home in California.
On January 3, 2023, Bankman-Fried pled "not guilty" to fraud and the other charges.
On February 1, 2023, the judge presiding over his case, Judge Lewis Kaplan, tightened the bail conditions and forbade Bankman-Fried from contacting current or former employees of FTX without attorneys present. The restriction was imposed as Judge Kaplan considered his contact with a potential witness as a "material threat of inappropriate contact with prospective witnesses", and intimated Bankman-Fried might deserve to be jailed pending trial.
Four additional criminal charges levied against Bankman-Fried were announced on February 23, 2023, primarily focused on his making "more than 300 illegal political donations." A March 2023 indictment accused Bankman-Fried and others that they had "directed and caused the transfer" of at least $40 million in cryptocurrency to Chinese government officials, in order to unfreeze accounts of Alameda Research. In July, prosecutors dropped a campaign finance charge filed against him due to treaty obligations to The Bahamas created by his extradition.
On July 26, 2023, prosecutors alleged witness tampering after Bankman-Fried gave a reporter personal writings of Caroline Ellison, the former chief executive of his crypto hedge fund, Alameda Research. Three weeks later, on August 11, after Judge Kaplan concluded that witness tampering had likely occurred, he revoked Bankman-Fried's bail; Bankman-Fried was led from the courtroom in handcuffs and remanded into custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn. In a separate illegal campaign finance indictment in August, Bankman-Fried was accused of using $100 million in stolen funds of FTX customers towards 2022 U.S. elections campaign contributions.
On August 22, 2023, Bankman-Fried's counsel averred that his client was not being provided a vegan diet and that his medications for ADHD and depression were running low. He added that Bankman-Fried could not prepare for the trial subsisting on bread, water, and peanut butter.
The trial began on October 3, 2023, at the Manhattan federal court, presided over by Judge Lewis Kaplan. Bankman-Fried faced seven counts of fraud and conspiracy and up to 110 years in federal prison if convicted.
The Guardian summarised the trial as a question of "whether Bankman-Fried is a crypto criminal mastermind or just an unlucky 'math nerd'". Bankman-Fried is accused of having "stole[n] billions from thousands of people" to finance a life of luxury. Starting in 2019, he is said to have secretly orchestrated a scheme with his co-conspirators to funnel customers' money from FTX into Alameda, to then be spent on everything from real estate and celebrity endorsements to political influence in the hope of fully expanding his enterprise into the U.S. The defense, on the other hand, told the story of a young but earnest entrepreneur critically out of his depth. Bankman-Fried, they said, worked 12 to 23 hours a day, "didn't drink or party", and wanted to fund more work on pandemic prevention. A series of mistakes from him and his inexperienced executive team, a devastating market crash, and adversarial action from external parties caused his companies to spiral into bankruptcy. But at no point, they insisted, was there any intention to commit fraud.
Over a dozen witnesses testified for the prosecution, including three FTX executives as part of plea deals (and some who allegedly told journalist Michael Lewis, "I think Sam is innocent.") Nearly all of the testimony for the defense was provided by the defendant, with brief contributions from a risk management expert and a Bahamian lawyer.
The case revolved largely around two ways that Alameda was able to access the funds of other FTX customers. The first was the line of credit Alameda had on the exchange. A credit line is a relatively common facility that enables an entity to function more efficiently as a liquidity provider and margin traders on FTX were generally allowed to borrow from one another and do as they pleased with the borrowed funds. However, Alameda's credit line was "essentially unlimited" and it was exempt from posting collateral on the exchange to formally secure the borrows. Senior engineers testified that they had added these features at the direction of their CEO. Bankman-Fried contended that he had merely requested something that would prevent erroneous liquidation. He was not aware of the specific solution implemented, he said, although he was aware that Alameda ultimately borrowed "around $2 billion" this way.
Bankman-Fried also denied knowledge of a crucial part of the second way that Alameda accessed customer funds. Before FTX had a bank account, it had used Alameda and other payment processors to receive fiat deposits from customers. "What I believed is that either the funds were just being held in a bank account and not used or moved, or that they were being sent to FTX in one way or another," Bankman-Fried testified. He assumed that if Alameda had been spending the funds, that would have been reflected as a borrow on Alameda's main account on FTX. It wasn't until October or November 2022, he claimed, that he finally confirmed otherwise. The main Alameda account was not tracking those borrows. And Alameda had taken $8 billion. Other FTX executives conceded that "it seemed like he might not know" exactly how these funds were being processed and that while FTX's systems were tracking this liability, it was not displayed on the admin user's dashboard. But they also emphasized that ultimately at both businesses, Bankman-Fried called the shots.
Much attention was given to the contrast between Bankman-Fried's public statements about his companies and the private realities. For example, on November 8, 2022, he had tweeted, "FTX is fine. Assets are fine." One FTX executive said these statements were false, although also admitted to having first described them to prosecutors as true — given that Bankman-Fried had been careful to talk about solvency rather than liquidity — but "misleading". Misleading but technically true statements were a common theme. Bankman-Fried maintained, for instance, that he had never said Alameda was treated the same as other customers in all respects, only that Alameda was not front-running other customers. He also claimed to have only skimmed the "dishonest" balance sheets that Alameda's CEO sent to lenders and the defense made a great effort to demonstrate her autonomy in the role, the prime example being her refusal to follow Bankman-Fried's advice to hedge against a market downturn.
The trial ended on November 2, 2023, with the jury pronouncing Bankman-Fried guilty on all seven counts. His sentencing has been set for March 28, 2024. The second trial, on charges of bank fraud and other violations, is also set for March 2024.
2020 and earlier
Bankman-Fried's only campaign finance activity prior to 2019 was a $1,000 contribution in 2010 to Michael Bennet. For the 2020 U.S. elections, he contributed $5.2 million to two super PACs that supported the Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign. Bankman-Fried was the second-largest individual donor to Biden in the 2020 election cycle, after Michael Bloomberg.
Contributions were made to members of both U.S. political parties. In 2022, Bankman-Fried provided initial financial support for Protect Our Future PAC. Protect Our Future was launched as a political action committee of the Democratic Party with $10 million in initial funding aiming to support "lawmakers who play the long game on policymaking in areas like pandemic preparedness and planning", according to Politico. Bankman-Fried donated $27 million in total to this PAC.
Donations to Republican Party campaigns in the 2021–22 cycle have been estimated at $262,200, including donations to senators Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Journalist Matthew Kassel says that Bankman-Fried had often donated to politicians who cultivate good Israel–United States relations but concluded "it is unclear if his backing of pro-Israel candidates was coincidental or motivated by any personal interest in Middle East policy."
Bankman-Fried has claimed he also donated large amounts of money to Republicans through dark money channels.
2022 U.S. midterm elections
Bankman-Fried was the second-largest individual donor to Democratic causes for the 2022 U.S. elections, with total donations of $39.8 million, only behind George Soros, of which $27 million was given to the Protect Our Future PAC. Additional recipients included The Next 50 PAC, Guarding Against Pandemics PAC, and the leadership PAC for Brendan Boyle. Bankman-Fried said in February 2022 that his political contributions were not aimed at influencing his policy goals for the cryptocurrency ecosystem; however, FTX was circulating a list of suggestions to policymakers at the time. He said in an interview that he would prefer the Commodity Futures Trading Commission take a larger role in regulating and guiding the crypto industry. According to The New York Times, the CFTC has a reputation for favoring relatively relaxed regulations for the industry when contrasted with other regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Bankman-Fried pushed for regulations via the proposed Digital Commodities Consumer Protection Act (DCCPA) by extensively lobbying Congress, which was perceived as being favorable to FTX but harmful to the broader industry, especially its decentralized finance competitors. In May 2022, Bankman-Fried stated that he planned to spend "north of $100 million" in the 2024 presidential election with a "soft ceiling" of $1 billion. In October 2022, he walked back his pledged spending, calling it a "dumb quote on my part". However, in Going Infinite, Michael Lewis revealed that Bankman-Fried had begun to investigate the legality of directly paying Donald Trump not to run for president in 2024, with Trump's team allegedly giving a potential figure of $5 billion.
In the aftermath of the FTX scandal, recipients of Bankman-Fried's and other FTX executives' political campaign contributions have been donating equal amounts to charitable organizations. Elected officials doing so include Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as Representatives Chuy García and Kevin Hern. A spokesperson for former Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke said that his campaign had received a $1 million donation from Bankman-Fried in October 2022, but returned the funds in early November, prior to the election.
Pandemic prevention contributions and related controversy
Bankman-Fried and his younger brother, Gabriel, contributed toward pandemic prevention initiatives, according to an investigative report by The Washington Post. One such funding recipient was the Guarding Against Pandemics PAC, founded by Gabriel.
On May 15, 2022, FTX announced it had donated $18 million to support "TOGETHER Trial," a private, international, research consortium conducting clinical trials to test existing drugs as treatments for various conditions, including COVID-19.
On July 20, 2023, an Insiders Avoidance Complaint was filed against Bankman-Fried and three former FTX/Alameda senior executives seeking to recover “hundreds of millions of dollars that Defendants misappropriated.” The plaintiffs were FTX Trading Ltd., Alameda Research LLC, Alameda Research Ltd., North Dimension Inc., Cottonwood Grove Ltd., and Realm Shires, Inc. Their complaint stated that Guarding Against Pandemics — which received $35 million from Bankman-Fried between October 2021 and May 2022 — and its associated political action committee “needless to say, did nothing to prevent pandemics.”
Attempts to recoup donations
In December 2022, FTX's new management commenced efforts to "claw back" donations that had been made to politicians, celebrities and charities as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. The company announced that it "intends to...require the return of such payments, with interest accruing from the date any action is commenced." Reports on this development included the assessment that "clawing back payments made to politicians and charities is likely to be one of the easier parts of the bankruptcy process," on the basis of US legislation that presumes "payments or transfers made within 90 days of bankruptcy to be preferential if they result in a creditor getting more than it would have been entitled to at the end of the bankruptcy process," with the caveat that a "clawback can attempt to recover the difference in the payments."
As of April 2023, only $7.3 billion of the original $8 billion in missing funds had been recuperated in liquid assets. While an anonymous bidder reportedly valued the remaining portfolio at "at least $2 billion", Bloomberg's Matt Levine noted that "'We lucked into enough money to pay everyone back' is not a legal defense to fraud".
In October 2023, FTX and its affiliated debtors revealed a proposed settlement of customer-property disputes, set to be presented for approval to the competent bankruptcy court. Accounting for both priority and non-priority claims against FTX, the settlement's parties offered their estimate that customers of FTX.com and FTX US would receive, collectively, over 90% of distributable value worldwide.
Bankman-Fried is vegan. He was raised in a Jewish family. As of mid-2021, it was reported that he lived with approximately ten roommates in a five-bedroom Bahamian penthouse bought by co-CEO of FTX Ryan Salame. After FTX's collapse, the penthouse was put up for sale for close to $40 million.
Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison was romantically involved with Bankman-Fried until their final split on April 15, 2022. While testifying against him in court in October 2023, she claimed that his hairstyle and clothes were part of a "well calculated" image that he tried to project. She stated that Bankman-Fried believed he had received higher bonuses while working at Jane Street because of his hair, and used his appearance as "an important part" of FTX’s "narrative and image.” In court, Bankman-Fried appeared wearing a gray suit with hair trimmed down.
Bankman-Fried once played the video game League of Legends while on a call attempting to secure an investment from Sequoia Capital. An article in the Financial Times characterized Bankman-Fried's "win ratios" in League of Legends as "average-to-bad".
Τhroughout the recent developments, Bankman-Fried's parents have stood by him, writing in a December 2022 letter, around the time of the arrest, “You are innocent.” In an e-mail to The New Yorker, his mother, Barbara Fried, denounced the actions of the prosecution and the bankruptcy team as “McCarthyite” and their “relentless pursuit of total destruction,” which is enabled by “a credulous public.” Since he has been held, each of Bankman-Fried's parents in turn travels every Tuesday from California to be with him at the Brooklyn jail.