The wait for Sam Bankman-Fried to testify before a jury will be a little longer.
Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who is presiding over the federal criminal trial of the disgraced crypto mogul, sent jurors home on Thursday afternoon, shortly before Mr. Bankman-Fried was expected to take the stand. Judge Kaplan instead opted for a hearing to discuss pending testimony from Mr. Bankman-Fried, the founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, regarding his reliance on corporate lawyers in decision-making.
The jury will return on Friday, when Mr. Bankman-Fried is expected to testify.
The delay came after the FTX founder’s lawyers called their first two witnesses and after more than two weeks of testimony from law enforcement experts and associates who portrayed Mr. Bankman-Fried as a liar who treated FTX like a personal piggy bank. He is accused of orchestrating a sweeping scheme to use up to $10 billion in FTX customer deposits to fund venture investments, real estate purchases and other lavish spending.
Mr Bankman-Fried, 31, has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
The defense has maintained that Mr. Bankman-Fried is not a criminal and that any decision that led to FTX’s rapid failure was made in “good faith.” But legal experts who have followed the case believe he faces an uphill battle.
Despite the complicated nature of Mr. Bankman-Fried’s business and his connection to a closely related crypto trading firm he ran, prosecutors have portrayed their case as a fraud investigation of all kinds while sticking to relatively simple concepts. And many of the witnesses they called received minimal resistance from Mr. Bankman-Fried’s lawyers.
Judge Kaplan ordered the evidentiary hearing on Thursday afternoon to determine the extent of Mr. Bankman-Fried’s testimony when it came to relying on FTX’s lawyers in making his decision. The judge had previously ruled that he would limit such statements but had left open the possibility that Mr Bankman-Fried could revisit the matter during the trial.
The unusual hearing, conducted without the jury in the courtroom, gave a taste of how Mr. Bankman-Fried might perform on the witness stand. When questioned by his lawyer, the FTX founder looked straight ahead and spoke calmly while discussing several technical issues, including the exchange’s document retention policy.
Mark Cohen, one of Mr. Bankman-Fried’s lawyers, said he wanted to show that his client had “comforted” his decisions after consulting with lawyers.
Under cross-examination by prosecutors, Mr. Bankman-Fried punctuated his answers with “ums” and “ahs” and often looked at his lap for several seconds before answering. His mother, Barbara Fried, sitting in the gallery, gesticulated emphatically at times as he was bombarded with questions.
At one point, Danielle Sassoon, a federal prosecutor, asked Mr. Bankman-Fried whether he had spoken to lawyers about the ability of his crypto trading firm Alameda Research to use FTX’s customer deposits. The central allegation of the indictment is that Mr. Bankman-Fried embezzled FTX customer funds transferred to Alameda.
Mr Bankman-Fried said “in hindsight” he wished he had had more discussions with lawyers about the use of FTX customer funds. “I wish I was better informed,” he said, later adding that there were some issues surrounding the use of FTX client funds that he had not discussed with lawyers.
Sometimes Mr. Bankman-Fried responded with his own questions or explained that he did not understand what was being asked. When his attorney objected to the prosecution’s line of questioning, Judge Kaplan said he thought it was appropriate.
“Part of the problem is that the witness has what I will simply call an interesting way of answering questions,” the judge said.
Source : www.nytimes.com