Trial of former crypto multi-billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried begins in New York, with jury selection underway
The long-awaited fraud trial of Sam Bankman-Fried, former CEO of failed crypto exchange FTX, has begun in the US on Tuesday.
However before the courtroom showdown between Bankman-Fried and US prosecutors can start in earnest, jury selection has to take place first, the Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile a US prosecutor revealed that no potential plea agreement discussions have taken place between the two sides, in the nearly 10 months since the cryptocurrency executive was arrested and brought to the United States.
Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to a number of federal fraud and conspiracy charges over his role in the collapse of the FTX crypto exchange, after a multi-billion dollar hole was found in its balance sheet.
31 year-old Sam Bankman-Fried, who once had a net worth of $26 billion, potentially faces over 115 years in prison if found guilty.
His trial is expected to last up to six weeks.
According to the Associated Press, Bankman-Fried was given a makeover for his trial, with him changing his wild big-hair look, for a neat haircut more common in the financial industry.
Introduced to jurors, Bankman-Fried briefly stood in his suit and tie and turned their way, AP reported.
The AP also reported that nearly 50 prospective jurors were sent home on Tuesday and told to return Wednesday, when it was expected that a jury of 12 individuals and six alternates would be in place by late morning so opening statements could begin.
US Attorney Damian Williams, who is overseeing the prosecution, has called it one of the biggest frauds in the country’s history, AP reported.
No plea deal
Before the first prospective jurors were brought into a Manhattan courtroom, Assistant US Attorney Nicolas Roos said that the government “early on” raised the question with lawyers for Bankman-Fried about whether negotiations aimed at resolving the case with a plea should take place.
“There were no discussions about a plea, and the government never made any plea offers,” he said. Mark Cohen, a defense lawyer, agreed.
According to the AP, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan posed nearly 50 questions to the jury pool to ensure that jurors would be fair regardless of what they had heard about the case or whether their life history included experiences with crime, law enforcement, the financial world and cryptocurrency.
A few jurors said they could be fair even though they had lost money through investments in cryptocurrency.
Also on Tuesday, before jury selection began, the judge told Bankman-Fried that he will be given the chance to testify during the trial, even if his lawyers advise against it.
“They can’t make the decision for you. It’s your call,” the judge was quoted saying.
This courtroom battle is not the only legal trouble facing Bankman-Fried.
In July FTX filed a lawsuit against Sam Bankman-Fried, seeking to recoup more than $1 billion, and alleging the funds were used to cover his legal defence.
Then last month FTX sued the parents of Sam Bankman-Fried, namely Allan Joseph Bankman and his wife, Barbara Fried, who are both legal scholars and have taught at Stanford Law School.
That lawsuit seeks to recover from the parents luxury property and “millions of dollars in fraudulently transferred and misappropriated funds”.
The parents of Sam Bankman-Fried had pledged their Palo Alto, California home as collateral as part of the $250 million bail package of their son.
As part of his bail conditions, Sam Bankman-Fried was restricted to their California home and forced to wear an ankle monitor.
That bail lasted until August, when Sam Bankman-Fried was sent to jail, after a US judge sided with a request from federal prosecutors to revoke the FTX founder’s $250m bail.
US prosecutors had accused Bankman-Fried of witness tampering and US District Judge Lewis Kaplan agreed that a New York Times article titled “Inside the Private Writings of Caroline Ellison, Star Witness in the FTX Case”, meant detention and not bail was in order.
Lawyers for Bankman-Fried have expressed concern about his access to suitable food and medicine in the Brooklyn jail.