SEC charges Sam Bankman-Fried with defrauding FTX investors as he built a crypto 'house of cards'

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New York CNN  — 

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried was indicted on eight criminal charges including wire fraud and conspiracy by misusing customer funds, according to an indictment from the US Attorney of the Southern District of New York.

The 30-year-old Bankman-Fried was arrested at his home in the Bahamas on Monday and appeared in court in Nassau Tuesday. He could face up to 115 years in prison if convicted on all eight counts, according to congressional statutory maximum sentencing guidelines. He did not waive his right to an extradition hearing, according to a US official. But Chief Magistrate of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas Joyann Ferguson-Pratt has denied Bankman-Fried bail.

Separately Tuesday, US markets regulators charged Bankman-Fried with defrauding investors and customers in his failed crypto exchange FTX.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Bankman-Fried, “orchestrated a years-long fraud” to conceal from FTX investors the diversion of customer funds to Alameda Research, his crypto-trading hedge fund.

“We allege that Sam Bankman-Fried built a house of cards on a foundation of deception while telling investors that it was one of the safest buildings in crypto,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in a statement.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission also charged Bankman-Fried in a parallel action with the SEC.

Regulators signaled this may be just the first of multiple charges to come. The SEC said there are ongoing investigations into “other securities law violations” and into other entities and individuals.

“Mr. Bankman-Fried is reviewing the charges with his legal team and considering all of his legal options,” said Mark S. Cohen, Bankman-Fried’s lawyer, said in a statement.

Bankman-Fried, was arrested without incident at his apartment complex shortly after 6 pm ET Monday in Nassau, and is set to appear in court Tuesday, the Royal Bahamas Police Force said in a statement.

Prosecutors from the Southern District of New York unsealed an indictment Tuesday, charging Bankman-Fried with wire fraud and multiple counts of conspiracy, including conspiracy counts to defraud investors, lenders, and the United States, commit commodities and securities fraud and money laundering, and violate campaign finance laws.

Prosecutors allege Bankman-Fried conspired with others on numerous schemes, including misusing customer deposits held in FTX that were used to cover the expenses of Alameda. Bankman-Fried also allegedly defrauded lenders to Alameda by providing them misleading information about the hedge fund’s financial condition.

The 14-page indictment also alleges that Bankman-Fried conspired with others to violate federal election laws by making political donations to candidates and fundraising committees between 2020 and November 2022, in excess of federal legal limits and in the names of other people.

FTX achieved a $32 billion valuation by raising more than $1.8 billion since launching in May 2019, including from sophisticated investors such as BlackRock, Sequoia Capital and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Star athletes and celebrities who backed FTX also reportedly received a stake in the company, including Tom Brady and Gisele.

The SEC alleges that Bankman-Fried duped those investors who backed FTX by promoting it as a “safe, responsible” crypto trading firm that used “sophisticated, automated” risk measures to protect customer funds.

In reality, the SEC alleges, Bankman-Fried internally directed software code to be written in a way that allowed Alameda, to function with a negative balance in its the customer account at FTX.

This allegedly happened in August of 2019, just about four months after operations at FTX began.

This effectively gave Alameda a limitless line of credit funded by customer assets, according to the SEC. That meant there was no meaningful distinction between FTX customer funds and Alameda’s funds that Bankman-Fried used as his “personal piggy bank,” the complaint says. He hid from investors and customers that he used the funds to buy luxury condos, support political campaigns, and make private investments, according to the SEC.

Between March 2020 and September 2022, Bankman-Fried executed loans from Alameda totaling more than $1.338 billion, including two instances in which he was both the borrower in his individual capacity and the lender in his capacity as CEO of Alameda, the SEC says in its civil complaint.

Bankman-Fried used funds from Alameda to purchase tens of millions of dollars in Bahamian real estate for himself, his parents, and other FTX executives, according to the filing.

Alameda co-founders Nishad Singh and Gary Wang also borrowed $554 million and $224.7 million, respectively, by similarly executing promissory notes with Alameda in 2021 and 2022, the filing says.

Singh and Wang have not been charged with any crimes.

The loans to Bankman-Fried and others were “poorly documented, and at times not documented at all,” the lawsuit says.

When prices of crypto assets plummeted in May 2022, Bankman-Fried paid back Alameda’s demanding third-party lenders from its FTX “line of credit,” further growing the multi-billion-dollar liability and then concealed it in the Alameda balance sheet to avoid alarming investors, the complaint alleges.

The FTX chief executive continued to leverage the companies for his personal benefit, loaning himself $136 million in late July 2022 — one month after offering crypto financial services company BlockFi a $250 million revolving line of credit to ease its own liquidity issues, according to the filing. Meanwhile, throughout the summer, he presented a “false and misleading positive account” of the company to investors, despite its “tenuous financial condition”, the SEC alleges.

“FTX operated behind a veneer of legitimacy Mr. Bankman-Fried created by, among other things, touting its best-in-class controls, including a proprietary ‘risk engine,’ and FTX’s adherence to specific investor protection principles and detailed terms of service,” Gurbir Grewal, director of the SEC’s division of enforcement, said in a statement. “But as we allege in our complaint, that veneer wasn’t just thin, it was fraudulent.”

In the four weeks since FTX filed for bankruptcy, Bankman-Fried has sought to cast himself as a somewhat hapless chief executive who got out over his skis, denying accusations that he defrauded FTX’s customers.

“I didn’t knowingly commit fraud,” he told the BBC over the weekend. “I didn’t want any of this to happen. I was certainly not nearly as competent as I thought I was.”

But Bankman-Fried has previously admitting making mistakes while leading FTX, which he stepped down from last month after it filed for bankruptcy.

“Look, I screwed up,” Bankman-Fried said during a virtual appearance at the New York Times’ DealBook Summit. “There are things I would do anything to do over.”

The speed of Bankman-Fried’s arrest caught observers, including US lawmakers, by surprise. Lawyers who aren’t involved with the case suggested the quick turnaround signals that former FTX employees may be aiding prosecutors.

“Given Bankman-Fried’s apparent inability to stop talking, the smart move by former employees would be to rush to become a cooperator in exchange for more lenient treatment, and it would not be surprising to learn that one or more of them had done so,” said Howard A. Fischer, a former SEC lawyer. He added: “The fact that only one person has been charged so far would seem to indicate this as well.”

Andrew Jennings, an assistant professor at the Brooklyn Law School, also noted the case “has come together remarkably quickly for such a complex matter.”

“The SEC’s civil suit…includes detailed behind-the-scenes allegations about what Bankman-Fried did and knew, suggesting that the government has gotten high-value assistance from informants, including potential co-conspirators.”

– CNN”s Kara Scannell and Lauren Del Valle contributed to this report

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