SBF demanded 7 versions of Alameda’s balance sheet, Ellison testifies

“I didn’t want to be dishonest but I also didn’t want them to know the truth,” Caroline Ellison said of lying to lenders

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Artwork by Crystal Le

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After mentioning an alleged Chinese government bribe, fake accounts made in the names of Thai sex workers, and multiple versions of doctored balance sheets, Caroline Ellison is emerging as the government’s star witness in Sam Bankman-Fried’s criminal trial. The disgraced FTX founder is facing seven counts of fraud and conspiracy in this high-profile case.

Ellison, the former CEO of Alameda Research and Bankman-Fried’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, told the jury Wednesday morning that he cultivated a culture of secrecy within his companies. She pointed to allegations of disappearing Signal messages, coded language, and more.

“I was careful about not saying [anything] in too explicit language,” Ellison said, adding there was a fear that written communication could “be used against us in a court case.” 

Bankman-Fried told them to use the “New York Times test,” Ellison said, which is when employees were told to imagine their slack messages on the front page of the paper. 

“One example [of when we spoke in code] is when Alameda paid what I believe was a large bribe to Chinese” officials, Ellison said. 

The bribe, which she later said she believed to be in the ballpark of $100 million to $150 million, was apparently used to unlock accounts the exchange had in China on Huobi and OKX that were frozen, locking up around $1 billion in assets. 

In November 2021, Ellison said she was directed to send various assets to wallet addresses, totaling $100 million. After doing so, their accounts were unfrozen, she testified. 

Sam told her that “[David] Ma found a way to get our accounts unfrozen,” Ellison said. “All we had to do was send the money.” 

After a sidebar initiated by Bankman-Fried’s defense team, Southern District of New York senior judge Lewis Kaplan noted to the jury that Bankman-Fried is not charged with any bribery counts. 

Read more: Thai sex workers, Chinese bribes, and Signal messages: SBF live trial updates

An old employee Ellison referred to as “Handi” was supposedly involved in the discussions of how to unfreeze their accounts, as her father was a Chinese government official. 

Ellison said that Handi opposed “David Ma’s way,” but when she objected, Bankman-Fried told her to “shut the f*** up.” 

Months later, after Handi had quit, Bankman-Fried told Ellison and former employee Sam Trabuco in a Signal chat that Handi was being “antagonistic,” Ellison testified. Handi was trying to get a severance package, Ellison added. 

“Did Handis father immediately turn us in or something,” Trabuco said in the Signal message, a screenshot of which the government entered into evidence. 

“lol,” Bankman-Fried responded in the chat. 

Bankman-Fried and his team also considered unlocking the funds by utilizing other accounts to attempt money transfers. These accounts were created under the names of “Thai prostitutes,” according to Ellison. She added that Former FTX CEO Ryan Salame, who pleaded guilty to two unrelated counts last month, was the one who established the connection with the prostitutes.

Bad math? 

Ellison also noted that as crypto market conditions deteriorated in the summer of 2022, Alameda lenders were starting to recall loans. Genesis in particular asked for $500 million back in June 2022, according to a Signal message entered into evidence. 

Ellison created seven different ‘alternative’ versions of Alameda’s real balance sheet, at Bankman-Fried’s direction, she said. Falsified versions were sent to Genesis and others. 

In reality, Alameda’s net asset value was around $6 billion, although Ellison noted that given the amount of FTT they were holding, this figure was likely inflated. The trading firm’s total liabilities was $14.9 billion, Ellison said. 

When Genesis asked to see a balance sheet, Ellison said she was “very stressed out.” 

“I wanted to reassure them… but the fact was… we had been borrowing more from FTX customers,” she added. 

In the version Genesis received, Alameda’s net asset value was reported as $6 billion and its total liabilities was posted at $10 billion, given that Ellison said she erased Alameda’s $9.9 billion loan from FTX in the falsified version. The loan from FTX, as Ellison was repeatedly asked to clarify, was FTX customer money.  

“I didn’t want to be dishonest but I also didn’t want them to know the truth,” Ellison said of lying to lenders. 

On the topic of customer deposits, the government showed a June 27, 2022 tweet from Bankman-Fried in which he stated: “Backstopping customer assets should always be primary. Everything else is secondary.”

Lead prosecutor Danielle Sassoon asked Ellison if FTX at the time of that tweet had enough assets to backstop its customers. 

“No,” Ellison said.

Customers had deposited a total of $15 billion on the exchange, but there were only about $6.8 billion in liquid assets on FTX.

Lots of damning accusations 

Ellison’s Wednesday testimony comes after an explosive day in court Tuesday, where she backed up FTX co-founder Gary Wang’s claims and dropped some more bombshells. 

She told the jury that Alameda made upwards of $5 billion in personal loans to Bankman-Fried, Wang and Nishad Singh, the company’s former director of engineering. 

Plus, Bankman-Fried knew there was a 100% probability of Alameda defaulting on its loans from third party creditors if market conditions worsened and he continued his billions of dollars spending spree. Of course, the government noted during their direct examination, this is exactly what eventually happened. 

Bankman-Fried ran the show at Alameda, Ellison added Tuesday, noting that “any major decisions” had to be run through him. When she asked for equity in Alameda after she became CEO of the crypto hedge fund, Bankman-Fried told her “it was too complicated.” 

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, Ellison has been on the stand for about four hours so far. The prosecution told the court Wednesday afternoon before the lunch break that they probably have another hour and a half of direct questioning.


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