MANHATTAN (CN) — FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty Thursday morning to bribery, securities fraud and conspiracy fraud, the latest charges he faces in New York federal court.
Federal prosecutors unsealed a second superseding indictment on Tuesday accusing Bankman-Fried of paying off Chinese officials tens of millions of dollars late last year to regain access to $1 billion worth of frozen crypto assets the same month that the cryptocurrency exchange FTX abruptly collapsed into bankruptcy.
It was Bankman-Fried's understanding, according to the indictment, that the accounts had been frozen by Chinese authorities as part of an ongoing probe of a particular trading counterparty of a crypto hedge fund he controlled, Alameda Research.
Bankman-Fried’s plea of not guilty to the additional charges from a pair of superseding indictments was entered through his attorney his attorney Mark Cohen, who told the judge that his plea at the Thursday’s arraignment was not an acknowledgement that his client can be charged on the counts that came after his extradition from the Bahamas, which the lawyer promised would be the subject of future pretrial motions.
Until recently, Bankman-Fried, 31, was one of the richest people in the cryptocurrency business. He now faces up to 155 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Federal prosecutors unsealed the initial eight-count criminal indictment against him in New York after Bahamian authorities arrested Bankman-Fried at the request of the U.S. government.
One week later, when Bankman-Fried was extradited from the Bahamas, U.S. prosecutors disclosed that they had already obtained guilty pleas from two of his former business partners.
The initial indictment alleged multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy for allegedly misappropriating billions of dollars of FTX customers’ funds to pay expenses and debts of Alameda, of which he was a co-founder and majority share owner.
The first indictment also accused Bankman-Fried of flouting campaign-finance law by making large political campaign donations to both Democratic and Republican candidates using the proceeds of his embezzlement scheme.
According to OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending via Federal Election Commission filings, Bankman-Fried was the second biggest Democratic-leaning donor in the 2022 election cycle.
On Thursday, wearing a dark gray suit and tie, Bankman-Fried was joined by his attorneys, Cohen and Chris Everdell, both of whom previously represented Ghislaine Maxwell in her unsuccessful bid to be released on bail ahead of her 2021 criminal trial in the same courthouse on sex-trafficking charges.
The hearing was over in 20 minutes, and Bankman-Fried exited the courthouse flanked by bodyguards into a black SUV to be flown back to the West Coast.
Thanks to a $250 million bond, Bankman-Fried has spent the last three months under house arrest at his parents’ home in Palo Alto, California.
The stain of the scandal has already spread to his parents, both Stanford Law professors. Barbara Fried is on the board of the Stanford Ethics in Society Program; her husband, Joseph Bankman, is describes as “a leading scholar in the field of tax law,” according to his bio on the university’s website.
Equity interests the Palo Alto home of Bankman-Fried's parents secured their son's quarter-billion-dollar personal recognizance bond in part, and they co-signed it as well.
Unsealed filings showed that Larry Kramer, dean emeritus of Stanford Law School, and Andreas Paepcke, a senior research scientist at Stanford, pledged to pay a total of $700,000 if Bankman-Fried flees before facing trial on charges that he defrauded investors in his cryptocurrency trading platform.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan recently tightened Bankman-Fried’s bail conditions after prosecutors flagged suspicious online activity using encrypted messaging apps and virtual private network.
Among those already charged in the case is Carolyn Ellison, Alameda’s former chief executive. She has agreed to testify against Bankman-Fried, as have two former FTX executives who have pleaded guilty in cooperation deals with the government.
Judge Kaplan has tentatively set the trial to begin in October 2023.
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