Sam Bankman-Fried calls for lenient sentence, appeals conviction

Sam Bankman-Fried calls for lenient sentence, appeals conviction

Since Sam Bankman-Fried was convicted of fraud last year, he has hired a new lawyer known for his courtroom showmanship. A group of sympathetic law professors pushed for a reevaluation of his actions. And his parents turned to former employees of FTX, the collapsed cryptocurrency exchange he founded.

From a federal detention center in Brooklyn, Mr. Bankman-Fried, 31, continues to make his case behind the scenes as he aims for a lenient sentence and prepares to appeal his conviction. On Tuesday, his lawyers filed a legal brief in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, arguing that he should be sentenced to prison between five and a quarter and six and a half years.

Mr. Bankman-Fried is “deeply, deeply sorry” for “the pain he has caused over the past two years,” the memo said. “His only goal after FTX collapsed was to cure customers.”

The filing is a crucial step before Mr. Bankman-Fried’s sentencing on March 28, when the federal judge overseeing his case, Lewis A. Kaplan, will decide how long the former billionaire will be imprisoned on criminal charges. a maximum sentence of 110 years. But it was only one part of a long-term strategy orchestrated by Mr. Bankman-Fried’s family and friends to reverse his conviction and stage a public reevaluation of his leadership at FTX.

Since last year’s trial, Mr. Bankman-Fried has hired Marc Mukasey, who once represented former President Donald J. Trump, to oversee his sentencing, as well as a separate lawyer from the law firm Shapiro Arato Bach to manage the call. His parents, Joe Bankman and Barbara Fried, law professors at Stanford University, also participated in the defense, helping people write letters vouching for their son’s character that were included in the sentencing memo.

In an interview, Natalie Tien, a former assistant to Mr. Bankman-Fried at FTX, said she wrote a letter for the memo after exchanging emails with Mr. Bankman and Ms. Fried.

“I have no hard feelings towards him and I feel bad for his parents,” Ms Tien said.

A spokesman for Mr. Bankman-Fried declined to comment. Representatives for Mr. Bankman and Ms. Fried did not respond to requests for comment.

Federal prosecutors are expected to present their own sentencing recommendations in a filing due March 15. But according to Mr. Bankman-Fried’s memo, a probation officer has already recommended a sentence of 100 years, a sentence his lawyers called “barbaric.”

Even if Judge Kaplan decides not to impose the maximum sentence, Mr. Bankman-Fried could spend decades behind bars.

The judge “could still hand down a very harsh sentence given the young Mr. Bankman-Fried — say, a sentence of 30 or 35 years,” said Miriam Baer, ​​assistant dean at Brooklyn Law School.

A spokesperson for Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, declined to comment.

Before FTX collapsed in November 2022, Mr. Bankman-Fried was one of the most prominent figures in the renegade crypto industry, a widely famous billionaire whose face was splashed across billboards and magazine covers.

In October, a federal jury convicted him of stealing $8 billion from FTX customers to fund political contributions, investments in other companies and lavish real estate purchases.

Mr Bankman-Fried has maintained his innocence and vowed to appeal. This month, he replaced his lawyers, Mark Cohen and Christian Everdell, with Mr. Mukasey, who represents another fallen crypto mogul. in a separate case and has a reputation for making forceful presentations in the courtroom.

Last year, Mr. Mukasey scored a victory in his defense of Trevor Milton, the founder of electric truck maker Nikola, who was convicted in 2022 of defrauding investors. A federal judge sentenced Mr. Milton in December to four years in prison, far less than the 11 years requested by prosecutors.

Working alongside Mr. Mukasey, he is an appeal lawyer and former prosecutor, Alexandra Shapiro, associate at Shapiro Arato Bach. She is expected to appeal Mr. Bankman-Fried after sentencing.

Mr. Bankman and Ms. Fried also played roles behind the scenes. Last month, Ms. Tien said, she received a text message from one of Mr. Bankman-Fried’s supporters, asking if she would help with the memo. She then received a follow-up email from the FTX founder’s parents explaining the sentencing process and urging her to write “from the heart” about their son.

It was “a bit like testing the waters,” Ms. Tien said in an interview. “I pretty much said ‘yes’ right away.”

Ms. Tien was one of 29 people who wrote letters for the memo, including Mr. Bankman-Fried’s parents, his younger brother and several former colleagues. She called him kind and empathetic and said he “never acted out of greed or self-interest.”

In the filing, Mr. Mukasey cited the letters to describe Mr. Bankman-Fried as a hardworking, selfless billionaire who avoided the trappings of fame and wealth. He also posited that some oddities in the tycoon’s behavior could be explained by “neurodiversity.”

Mr. Bankman-Fried exhibits “outward characteristics typical of neurodiversity, such as inconsistent eye contact,” the memo said. “He may be perceived as abrupt, dismissive, evasive, detached or indifferent. »

Outside of the formal legal process, law professors who know Mr. Bankman-Fried’s parents have also championed his case.

In January, two close family friends, Ian Ayres, a law professor at Yale, and John Donohue, a law professor at Stanford, wrote: an essay for the Project Syndicate sitearguing that “all along” FTX had enough assets to cure its customers – a point Mr. Mukasey echoed in the note.

“Whatever else may be said about Bankman-Fried, he was a brilliant businessman,” Mr. Ayres and Mr. Donohue wrote.

Another law professor, Jonathan Lipson of Temple University, said in an interview that he was working with David Skeel of the University of Pennsylvania Law School on an academic article criticizing Sullivan & Cromwell, the firm of lawyers overseeing the FTX bankruptcy.

In September, Mr. Lipson co-wrote a brief in the bankruptcy case arguing for the appointment of an independent examiner to review Sullivan & Cromwell’s actions, including their close collaboration with federal prosecutors. He said he spoke with Mr. Bankman-Fried and his mother last year after another Stanford law professor contacted the case and offered to put them in touch.

In their article, Mr. Lipson and Mr. Skeel claim that Sullivan & Cromwell “may have distorted the criminal justice process” by giving prosecutors broad access to FTX resources and data, according to an unpublished version shared with the New York Times.

Sullivan & Cromwell declined to comment. In court filings, prosecutors described information sharing as “common practice by companies cooperating in an investigation.”

Mr. Bankman-Fried faces great difficulties. Criminal convictions are rarely overturned on appeal.

Since last summer, he has been married to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where he spends much of his time working on the case, a person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Bankman-Fried also shared crypto market advice with the guards, the person said, recommending investments in the digital coin Solana.

This month, Mr. Bankman-Fried left the detention center for his first public court appearance since the trial, a hearing to authorize his new legal representation. In a Manhattan courtroom, he appeared clean-shaven and wore a baggy brown prison uniform. Sometimes he would turn around and smile at the reporters sitting in the gallery.

J. Edward Moreno reports contributed.

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David B.Otero

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