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'Crypto King' Sam Bankman-Fried Jailed For 25 Years: From FTX's Rise To Bankruptcy, Legal Battles, And Ethical Debates

Sam Bankman-Fried, once hailed as the 'Crypto King' for his leadership at FTX, now faces a 25-year prison sentence following his conviction for orchestrating a multibillion-dollar fraud scheme. His downfall marks a significant chapter in the tumultuous world of cryptocurrency exchanges.

AP
'Crypto King' Sam Bankman-Fried Jailed For 25 Years Photo: AP
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Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of FTX, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison by a Manhattan federal judge following his conviction last year for orchestrating a multibillion-dollar fraud scheme at the now-bankrupt crypto exchange.

In the broader context, U.S. prosecutors had sought a much lengthier sentence, aiming for 40 to 50 years, characterizing the fraud as one of the "biggest financial frauds in American history."

Throughout the legal proceedings, Bankman-Fried has maintained his innocence, appealing his conviction and pushing for a reduced sentence ranging from five to seven years.

The impact of the fraud scheme and subsequent bankruptcy of FTX and other companies founded by Bankman-Fried has been significant, affecting millions of individuals. FTX has stated its intention to fully repay customers for frozen cryptocurrency deposits, but the specific details of this payout have left customers feeling dissatisfied, according to reports by Reuters.

FTX's Collapse and Fallout

FTX experienced a significant collapse in November 2022 after a CoinDesk report revealed that Alameda Research, a trading firm founded by SBF, primarily held speculative crypto tokens created by FTX.

Following this report, Changpeng Zhao, CEO of rival crypto exchange Binance, announced the full removal of FTT, one of these speculative tokens, from Binance's balance sheet. This triggered a bank run as the price of FTT plummeted, leading FTX customers to withdraw a collective $6 billion in just 72 hours.

As a result of the withdrawal rush and a lack of funds, FTX suspended withdrawals, sparking wider chaos in the crypto market. Shortly thereafter, Binance announced plans to acquire FTX.com, only to retract the offer a day later upon learning of U.S. investigations into FTX's collapse.

Bankman-Fried's Legal Troubles

Bankman-Fried encountered legal troubles amid FTX's bankruptcy, stepping down as CEO on November 11, 2022. The Securities Commission of the Bahamas froze assets belonging to FTX's local subsidiary due to public allegations of mishandling customer funds. Subsequently, Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas on December 12 for extradition to the U.S.

The U.S. Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, and other agencies filed charges against Bankman-Fried, accusing him of participating in a scheme to defraud FTX customers. He pleaded not guilty to various charges including fraud, conspiracy, campaign finance law violations, and money laundering. By the end of the month, the Bahamas securities regulator seized $3.5 billion in digital assets controlled by FTX.

Sam Bankman-Fried Trial
Sam Bankman-Fried Trial Photo: AP
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Trial and Verdict

Bankman-Fried's trial commenced in October 2023. Prosecutors alleged that he misled investors, customers, and lenders about FTX's financial status, using customer funds to cover losses at Alameda Research and for personal expenditures, including luxury purchases and political campaign donations. In contrast, Bankman-Fried's defense argued that he acted in good faith and was unaware that Alameda was using FTX customer funds deposited into its bank accounts.

On November 2, the jury delivered a verdict, finding Bankman-Fried guilty on seven counts.

During the sentencing, Kaplan criticized Bankman-Fried for his apparent lack of remorse, referencing conversations Bankman-Fried had with ex-Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison, who also had a relationship with him.

“He knew it was wrong, he knew it was criminal, he regrets he made a very bad bet about the likelihood of getting caught," Kaplan stated.

The judge also dismissed the defense's argument that customers ultimately suffered no loss.

Bankman-Fried's Ethical Framework

Considerable attention has been drawn to Sam Bankman-Fried's distinctive motivations as a business figure. He portrayed himself as an Effective Altruist, advocating for significant donations to philanthropic causes backed by robust evidence of effectiveness.

More specifically, Bankman-Fried subscribed to consequentialism, where the morality of an action is determined by its outcome, as opposed to deontology, which asserts inherent moral values in choices themselves.

Bankman-Fried operated under the belief that he could utilize others' funds to generate substantial returns, repay all stakeholders, and contribute to societal good, such as averting future pandemics.

However, reality deviated from this optimistic vision. Instead of achieving these lofty goals, his company faced severe financial troubles, including halting customer withdrawals, declaring bankruptcy, and laying off numerous employees. This left thousands of users enduring years of uncertainty, awaiting resolution through the legal system.

In essence, Bankman-Fried and his family have now confronted the full repercussions of his misjudgments and miscalculations.

Repayment Efforts and Financial Developments

The defense has advocated for leniency, citing plans to repay customers based on the dollar-value of their holdings at the time of bankruptcy. This repayment effort has been bolstered by SBF's successful investment in the artificial intelligence startup Anthropic, with FTX announcing the sale of two-thirds of its stake in the company for $884 million.

It's worth noting that Bankman-Fried changed his defense team since the trial, and Judge Kaplan previously ruled that the Anthropic investment was not relevant to the case, emphasizing that the crime was the misappropriation itself, regardless of subsequent actions.

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Courtroom Drama and Rulings

On October 11, the court decided that the defense could not raise the Anthropic investment during the trial, as the fact that customers were being reimbursed was deemed irrelevant.

Judge Kaplan illustrated his ruling with an analogy, stating, "This is like saying that if I break into the Federal Reserve Bank, make off with a million bucks, spend it all on Powerball tickets and happen to win, it was okay."

He emphasized, "The crime is the misappropriation. That's it. It's finished. The minute the misappropriation happens, whether it's used wisely, foolishly, or whatever."

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