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FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is found guilty of all charges including fraud

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The former king of crypto is going to prison. A jury in New York found Sam Bankman-Fried guilty of seven criminal counts, including securities fraud and money laundering. NPR's David Gura covered the trial. David, this trial seems to have had a very brisk pace.

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Yeah. And from the very start, you know, right after Sam Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas, federal prosecutors claimed this was an open and shut case. So, yes, Sam Bankman-Fried was this new kind of crypto celebrity. He had disheveled hair; he wore shorts and T-shirts. A, I think you'll agree with me, he didn't look like any other billionaire CEO, but the U.S. government said none of that mattered.

Prosecutors said a fraudster is a fraudster, and they pushed back hard against Bankman-Fried's defense that he was just trying to figure out how to navigate this new kind of finance, an industry in its infancy. Prosecutors told the jury this was not a case about the ins and outs of cryptocurrency. Last night, Damian Williams made some brief comments. He's the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. And Williams said he and his colleagues have seen schemes like this one over and over again.

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DAMIAN WILLIAMS: The cryptocurrency industry might be new. The players, like Sam Bankman-Fried, might be new. But this kind of fraud, this kind of corruption, is as old as time, and we have no patience for it.

GURA: And, A, Damian Williams said he wants Bankman-Fried's conviction to send a message to other fraudsters, as he put it, a message to people who think they're untouchable.

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WILLIAMS: Those folks should think again and cut it out. And if they don't, I promise we'll have enough handcuffs for all of them.

GURA: The U.S. government put this case together so fast. The trial, A, was long, but not as long as everyone expected. And the jury didn't waste time. It took just five hours to make its decision.

MARTÍNEZ: It sounds like this outcome wasn't a huge surprise.

GURA: Yeah, the prosecution had a very solid case here with a lot of documentary evidence, but the government also had three key witnesses. These were Sam Bankman-Fried's co-conspirators, a group of his deputies and close friends. It included his ex-girlfriend, who ran Alameda Research, this trading firm. And one by one, these cooperating witnesses told the jury that Bankman-Fried directed them to commit crimes.

You know, their testimony was so compelling that Bankman-Fried decided to throw a Hail Mary. He took the stand himself so that jurors could hear from him directly. It's fair to say that backfired. Bankman-Fried faced a withering cross-examination that lasted for almost eight hours, and prosecutors used Bankman-Fried's own words, A, against him. They poked holes in his story, made it clear to the jury that this scheme was his idea, and he knew that as cryptocurrency prices plummeted last year - and, man, did they - that his company's implosion was unavoidable.

MARTÍNEZ: When's he getting sentenced?

GURA: Judge Lewis Kaplan has scheduled a sentencing hearing. That'll be on March the 28th. Now, Bankman-Fried is just 31 years old, and the maximum penalty he faces, A, is 110 years in prison. His lawyer gave us a statement. He said Bankman-Fried maintains his innocence and plans to, quote, "continue to vigorously fight the charges against him." So he's going to appeal, but Bankman-Fried faces other legal challenges. The U.S. government has been planning to try Bankman-Fried on several other criminal counts. It's unclear if prosecutors are going to go ahead with that because this one turned out the way that it did. The judge wants to know that by February. On top of that, there are civil suits. And Bankman-Fried's parents are also fighting a lawsuit filed by FTX's debtors. They're trying to claw back billions of dollars that disappeared when Bankman-Fried's crypto empire collapsed.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's David Gura. David, thanks.

GURA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE NEW MASTERSOUNDS' "IN THE MIDDLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.