Prosecutors say FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is harassing a key witness at his upcoming trial

Jul 21, 2023, 12:55 PM | Updated: 1:12 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is harassing a key witness against him at his upcoming trial by giving a newspaper personal things she wrote while she was the chief executive of his cryptocurrency hedge fund trading firm, prosecutors say.

They asked a judge late Thursday to order trial participants not to make statements that might taint the yet-to-be-chosen jury in a criminal case over allegations that Bankman-Fried and other top executives cheated investors and looted FTX customer deposits, in part to fund lavish lifestyles.

In a letter to Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, prosecutors said Bankman-Fried gave some of Caroline Ellison’s personal correspondence to The New York Times. They said that had the effect of harassing her and seemed designed to deter other potential trial witnesses from testifying.

They called it an effort to “publicly discredit a government witness” and interfere with an Oct. 2 trial.

Ellison, 28, was CEO of Alameda Research, a cryptocurrency hedge fund trading firm that was an offshoot of FTX.

FTX entered bankruptcy in November when the global exchange ran out of money after the equivalent of a bank run.

Ellison pleaded guilty in December to criminal charges that carry a potential penalty of 110 years in prison. She has agreed to testify against Bankman-Fried, 31, as part of a deal that could result in leniency.

Prosecutors said lawyers for Bankman-Fried confirmed that their client had shared documents that were not currently part of trial evidence with The New York Times before it published an article Thursday with the headline: “Private Writings of Caroline Ellison, Star Witness in the FTX Case.”

According to the article, Ellison wrote that she did not think she was well suited to running Alameda or decisive as a leader, and the doubts occurred as she coped with the breakup of a sporadic romantic relationship with Bankman-Fried.

The Times reported that in April 2022, Ellison wrote in a Google document that an earlier breakup with Bankman-Fried had “significantly decreased my excitement about Alameda” and that life at the hedge fund “felt too associated with you in a way that was painful.”

Lawyers for Ellison and for Bankman-Fried did not return emails seeking comment Friday. A spokesperson for prosecutors declined comment.

In their letter to Kaplan, prosecutors stopped short of asking the judge to jail Bankman-Fried in the weeks before his trial.

They said Ellison was expected to testify at trial that she agreed with Bankman-Fried to defraud FTX’s customers and investors and Alameda’s lenders.

Prosecutors accused Bankman-Fried of trying to “cast Ellison in a poor light, and advance his defense through the press and outside the constraints of the courtroom and rules of evidence: that Ellison was a jilted lover who perpetrated these crimes alone.”

They said they expect “overwhelming evidence to give the lie to this defense,” and they called it improper and prejudicial for Bankman-Fried to malign Ellison’s credibility before the trial.

Prosecutors also wrote that lawyers for potential trial witnesses, including some who live abroad, said their clients were hesitant to testify in a case with persistent media attention.

“These witness concerns will only be heightened if witnesses are made to fear that a consequence of testifying against the defendant may include personal humiliation and efforts to discredit their reputation that go beyond what the rules of evidence might permit during cross examination,” prosecutors wrote.

Earlier this year, Kaplan had suggested that jailing Bankman-Fried was possible after prosecutors complained that he found ways to get around limits placed on his electronic communications as part of a $250 million personal recognizance bond issued after his December arrest that requires him to live with his parents in Palo Alto, California.

In February, prosecutors said he might have tried to influence a witness when he sent an encrypted message in January over a texting app to a top FTX lawyer, saying he “would really love to reconnect and see if there’s a way for us to have a constructive relationship, use each other as resources when possible, or at least vet things with each other.”

At a February hearing, the judge said prosecutors described things Bankman-Fried had done after his arrest “that suggests to me that maybe he has committed or attempted to commit a federal felony while on release.”

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Prosecutors say FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is harassing a key witness at his upcoming trial