SBF strikes cautious tone as his testimony before a jury begins

Bankman-Fried claims there was a lot going on at both FTX and Alameda that he didn’t know about

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Artwork by Crystal Le

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The long-awaited moment finally arrived Friday morning: Sam Bankman-Fried faced the jury for the first time.

Bankman-Fried opted to speak decidedly slower, make irregular eye contact with the jury box and toe what has emerged as the party line: that there was a lot going on within the FTX empire that he knew nothing about. 

Bankman-Fried, who faces seven counts of fraud and conspiracy, appeared in federal court Friday in his usual trial ensemble: a mildly-wrinkled, slightly oversized gray suit with a purple tie. His demeanor appeared more cautious than it was on Thursday, where he gave senior judge Lewis Kaplan a preview of what he is now presenting to the jury

He sat hunched over slightly on the witness stand and made occasional glances into the jury box but kept his head facing lead defense attorney Mark Cohen, who conducted his direct examination from a podium across the room. 

Bankman-Fried maintained what his defense claimed during their opening statements back on Oct. 4: that he did make mistakes, but he was a 25-year-old startup founder (now 31) who put trust in the wrong people. 

“We sure should have, but no, we did not,” he replied when Cohen asked if FTX and Alameda ever had a risk department. 

During his opening statement, Cohen insisted that his client is being misrepresented by the government. Bankman-Fried, Cohen argued at the time, is simply “a math nerd who didn’t drink or party.” 

“Working on a startup, or at a startup, is like building a plane while you’re flying it,” Cohen added, referring to FTX and its early days. 

Bankman-Fried was working constantly — sometimes logging up to 22 hours a day — and he was being pulled in every direction, he testified. 

“Some people shoot for inbox 0,” Bankman-Fried said, referring to many people’s desire to keep their emails in check. “I was shooting for inbox 60,000.” 

Bankman-Fried’s direct testimony may take the rest of the day Friday, meaning cross-examination could begin Monday. If the government chooses to put on a performance like what Kaplan saw on Thursday, defense will likely go for a redirect exam. 

Bankman-Fried testified Thursday that, from his understanding, enforcing auto-delete mechanisms in Signal chat was allowed, per a “document retention policy” his team is unable to produce to the court. 

“I wish I had that policy now,” Bankman-Fried said Thursday. “I’m working off my memory of it.” 

Bankman-Fried had said that anything outside of know-your-customer data, “formal business discussions,” official documents and other company-wide communications, nothing needed to be retained. 

That said, Sassoon and Bankman-Fried’s definitions of “formal business discussions” appeared to differ. During yesterday’s mock testimony, Sassoon asked, for example, if the decision to use customer funds would be considered “formal,” in Bankman-Fried’s opinion.

Counsel on both sides have indicated that we could hear closing arguments as soon as next week. The defense has said that Bankman-Fried will be their third and final witness.


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