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

Reporter Wagner sat just a few rows behind Sam Bankman-Fried over the past few days in court

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Artwork by Crystal Le

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Sitting just a few feet away from the defendant, Sam Bankman-Fried, Casey Wagner paints a picture of the FTX trial’s first week.

On the Empire podcast (Spotify/Apple), Wagner describes the jury as a diverse group, consisting of nine women and three men of various educational backgrounds, from high school to masters degrees. A couple jurors have nursing degrees, Wagner says, and “there’s a librarian. There is a special education teacher.”

“There is one former banker,” she adds, “so that’s, I believe, the only financial connection.” Juror ages are diverse as well, ranging from early 20’s up to about 70, Wagner says. 

Potential witnesses can’t attend court proceedings, Wagner says. Interestingly, Wagner says, his mother, Barbara Fried was in attendance, and therefore, can not possibly stand as a witness.

“She seems fine. She’s been taking notes, not really showing a super strong expression,” Wagner says. “At one point today, I looked over at her. She had her head kind of in her hands,” she says, but “she didn’t stay in that position very long. She kind of quickly recovered.”

Defense leaks stories

Wagner notes that he appears to be “definitely thinner” than when she last saw him a year and a half ago. 

Wearing a tie and a suit that seem out of character for the defendant, Wagner notes that the suit appears to be “oversized,” perhaps due to recent weight loss. 

“He looks really, really pale,” she adds, and is sporting a new haircut. Wagner says that Bankman-Fried’s defense leaked a story to reporters that a fellow inmate had cut the defendant’s hair prior to the trial. 

“I imagine it’s strategic on the defense’s side,” she says. “They’re trying to make him look, you know, frail or innocent or whatever it is.”

Wagner notes that Bankman-Fried’s defense team also mentioned that their client purchased his suit at Macy’s on a 40% off deal, perhaps in an effort to enhance his “everyman” humble math nerd appearance.

So far, Wagner says, Bankman-Fried has “not shown any emotion,” but that may change if he takes the witness stand at some point. Wagner expects the defendant to take the stand, although he is not required to do so legally. “Given what we know about him, I really think that he’s going to choose to, but we’ll have to see.”

“I really think he just genuinely thinks that he can schmooze his way out of this, you know?” 

Interesting witness selection

Wagner details witness testimonies, with the first brought forward by the prosecution being a French commodities trader who claimed to have lost “between $140,000 and $150,000 USD on FTX.”

Wagner says she feels the story failed to “connect” with jurors. Being such a large sum of money to have on hand, Wagner says she doesn’t think it’s a “relatable” story for jurors. 

“There’s a woman on the jury,” Wagner says, “she’s 22 years old, she works at a grocery store and lives with her parents. She doesn’t know what you’re talking about.”

“It was an interesting choice.”

The next witness, Adam Yedidia, was more exciting, Wagner says. The former employee and, according to Wagner, “bestie,” met Bankman-Fried at MIT, soon lived with him and worked together at FTX

The “bombshell” from him, Wagner says, was that he had been granted immunity by the prosecution in exchange for truthful testimony. “He said that he was aware that the bank account that FTX customers used to wire money into their own trading accounts…that account was owned by Alameda.”

The testimony confused the jury, Wagner says, when detailing issues with certain accounting bugs and deposit tracking issues. “They’re talking about code and bugs and accounts and the jury was completely lost. One woman actually fell asleep,” Wagner laughs.

Because Yedidia had worked on fixing certain accounting bugs, he “knew 100 percent that Alameda owed 8 billion dollars to FTX customers.”

When Yedidia later found out that Alameda used FTX customer funds to repay their creditors, he quit, Wagner says.

Cross-examinations “hard to watch”

Bankman-Fried’s attorneys have a tough job, Wagner opines. 

Their cross-examinations were “pretty hard to watch,” she says. The defending attorney kept asking questions that were struck down as leading the witness, she says.

“You’ve probably seen this on TV. There’s an objection. And the judge sustains it and the lawyer has to kind of regroup and reframe.”

“It’s just not a great look,” she says. “He had this massive binder up on the podium with him. He was flipping through all these pages, just frantically.”

The prosecutor, on the other hand, presented herself confidently with no notes in hand, “perfectly composed and relaxed,” with her hands behind her back, Wagner says.

“It’s looking bad for Sam.”


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