5 hidden gems from Caroline Ellison’s FTX testimony you might’ve missed

Ex-CEO of Alameda Research Caroline Ellison was candid during her marathon testimony session Wednesday

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Artwork by Crystal Le

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Sam Bankman-Fried’s criminal trial continued in Manhattan Wednesday with Caroline Ellison — emerging as a star government witness — once again taking the stand. 

Bankman-Fried faces seven counts of fraud and conspiracy. Ellison, the former CEO of Alameda Research and Bankman-Fried’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, pleaded guilty last December to seven counts, for which she faces a maximum sentence of 110 years in prison. 

As might be expected, Ellison’s testimony thus far has been a veritable blockbuster. Here are some of the top quotes from the sixth trial day, for those who couldn’t snag a spot in the gallery in downtown Manhattan. 

Written communication “could be used against us in a court case” 

Bankman-Fried cultivated a culture of secrecy within his companies, Ellison told the jury when she delivered this ironic one-liner. 

Ellison pointed to allegations of disappearing Signal messages, coded language, and more — all of which she claimed Bankman-Fried explicitly directed employees to use. 

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

Of course, “coded” language wasn’t enough to keep internal communications, personal notes and other correspondences out of the public record. 

The government has submitted many screenshots on this front: Signal messages, Google docs in which Ellison alluded to crimes in vague language and personal notes from Ellison’s journal, which she said was seized by the FBI when they searched her parents’ home in December 2022. 

“I believe this is Wednesday… that’s not speculation” 

Judge Lewis Kaplan said the above to Bankman-Fried attorney Mark Cohen when the latter sought to object during the government’s direct examination of Ellison. The defense tried to claim the witness was speculating as opposed to providing facts. 

“How is that hearsay,” Kaplan asked later when Cohen vyed for another objection. This time, the prosecution had asked Ellison to share what happened in an all-hands meeting she hosted with Alameda employees. 

Kaplan was having none of it, quickly overruling the objection and giving Cohen some sass —which also drew laughter from the gallery. 

It’s not the first time Kaplan has shown his attitude on the stand. Kaplan has been known to say “let’s get on with it” when he’s ready for counsel to move things along. He also warned them to try to keep the sidebars to a minimum.

“I didn’t want the fact of our crime to come out”

Ellison was referring to supposed bribes of Chinese government officials that Alameda allegedly engaged in sometime in 2021.

The courtroom erupted in gasps when lead prosecutor Danielle Sassoon brought up the $1 billion of Alameda money frozen on crypto exchanges Huobi and OKX due to a Chinese money laundering investigation in 2021.

That’s because Ellison testified — in an answer quickly stricken from the record — that Alameda had attempted to bribe the Chinese government into returning those funds. 

According to Ellison, $1 billion was a significant chunk of Alameda’s assets at the time.

“Things Sam is freaking out about” 

This was a list that Ellison kept in a Google document she updated “often,” she told the jury. 

What made the list for Bankman-Fried’s biggest worries? Bad press, trying to figure out how to raise money from a Saudi prince and Alameda’s spectacular lack of hedging. Bankman-Fried was also trying to find a way to get regulators to crack down on its rival Binance, a ploy Bankman-Fried was certain would help FTX’s market share. 

Bankman-Fried apparently wanted to buy Snapchat, as well. 

“Objection Your Honor, this is confusing” 

This quote came from lead prosecutor Danielle Sassoon about three minutes into Cohen’s cross-examination of Ellison. 

Bankman-Fried’s attorney was trying to illustrate how Alameda kept track of FTX customer funds and lended money. 

Read more: ‘Bombshell’ testimony and ‘hard to watch’ cross-examinations: A firsthand account of the SBF trial

Perhaps most perplexing for the jury was that the fiat “account” they often refer to was not actually a bank account but rather a ledger showing the total liabilities. As disclosed thus far in the trial, a technical bug misstated that amount by $8 billion. 

We agree, Sassoon, it’s confusing. In the end, Kaplan decided to call it a day after this comment, about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. 

Court resumes Thursday morning at 9:30 am ET.


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