NEW YORK — FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court Tuesday to charges that he cheated investors and looted customer deposits on his cryptocurrency trading platform as a judge set a tentative trial date for October.
Bankman-Fried, 30, denied charges accusing him of illegally diverting massive sums of customer money from FTX to make lavish real estate purchases, donate money to politicians and make risky trades at Alameda Research, his cryptocurrency hedge fund trading firm.
Bankman-Fried personally donated to Republican Sen. Susan Collins, and the firm FTX gave $100000 to Maine Democrats.
Bankman-Fried’s attorney, Mark Cohen, announced his client’s plea, saying: “He pleads not guilty to all counts.”
Afterward, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan set a tentative trial date of Oct. 2, saying he might move it forward or backward a day or two.
Wearing a backpack, Bankman-Fried marched through a crush of cameras as he entered the courthouse on a rainy day to make his first appearance before Kaplan. When he left court, he did not speak to reporters gathered outside.
After Bankman Fried pleaded not guilty inside the courthouse, the judge discussed with lawyers a schedule for proceeding toward trial.
Kaplan set April dates for defense lawyers to submit arguments challenging the validity of the charges and for prosecutors to respond to them. Arguments over the motions were set for May 18.
The judge also added to Bankman-Fried’s bail conditions by banning him from accessing or transferring cryptocurrency or assets of FTX or Alameda Research after Assistant U.S. Attorney Danielle Sassoon said he transferred some to foreign regulators because he thought they’d be more lenient with him than U.S. authorities.
Cohen, though, insisted that Bankman-Fried had not personally transferred any assets and that anything that was moved came at the insistence of a court in the Bahamas that ordered it to occur.
Prior to his appearance, his lawyers sent a letter to the judge, saying Bankman-Fried’s parents in recent weeks have become the target of “intense media scrutiny, harassment, and threats, including communications expressing a desire that they suffer physical harm.”
As a result, the lawyers asked that the names be redacted on court documents for two individuals who were lined up to sign Bankman-Fried’s $250 million personal recognizance bond. Bankman-Fried was released with electronic monitoring about two weeks ago on the condition that he await trial at his parents’ house in Palo Alto, California.
The judge invited prosecutors to respond to the letter and said he’ll rule at a later date after the media likely makes an argument as well.
Carolyn Ellison, 28, who ran Alameda, and Gary Wang, 29, who co-founded FTX, have pleaded guilty to fraud charges and are cooperating with prosecutors in a bid for leniency. Both are free on bail.
Their pleas were kept secret until Bankman-Fried was in the air after his extradition from the Bahamas, where FTX is based, due to fears that he might flee.
Shortly before Bankman-Fried’s arraignment, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams announced that he was launching a task force made up of senior prosecutors in his office to investigate and prosecute matters related to the FTX collapse. He said the task force also will work to trace and recover victim assets.
“The Southern District of New York is working around the clock to respond to the implosion of FTX,” Williams said in a press release. “It is an all-hands-on-deck moment. We are launching the SDNY FTX Task Force to ensure that this urgent work continues, powered by all of SDNY’s resources and expertise, until justice is done.”
Story by Larry Neumeister