Let’s be honest: the facts are bad for Sam Bankman-Fried. The prosecution, in its closing statement today by Nicolas Roos (pronounced “Rose,” though he won’t correct him if he’s wrong, as Judge Lewis Kaplan did for most of the trial), reviewed a host of contemporary writings . evidence suggesting Bankman-Fried was very, very guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy charges at FTX. Roos gave a confident and measured argument, drawing heavily on that evidence to argue that Bankman-Fried had used FTX client deposits as his own private piggy bank, funneling them through his trading company, Alameda Research.
He also pointed out why Bankman-Fried had done it: “The defendant was greedy.”
Honestly, that final statement could have been over after the first hour. The evidence that Bankman-Fried was involved – from meeting him on Google with the other alleged accomplices, to metadata linking him to several incriminating spreadsheets and funds traced to entities he controlled – would have been sufficient. But we still had a few more hours, as if Roos had rented a backhoe for his pile of evidence and was going to make the most of it.
As Roos spoke, the jury was very focused on him. No one seemed to be taking a nap. I didn’t see anyone look at the clock; Many jurors were taking notes. Although Roos was interrupted by an audiovisual mishap when the screens that used to show jurors the evidence went dark briefly in the middle row, the closing argument went smoothly. Roos spoke directly to the jury, occasionally glancing at his own notes.
Cohen said the prosecution was trying to make Bankman-Fried a villain.
Watching Roos, I came to understand why the defense had been jumping around in time for so long. The chronological order was bad for Bankman-Fried: it showed quite clearly that he was learning things and lying about them. The “Assets are fine” tweet, sent on Nov. 11, came four hours after a Signal talk in which Bankman-Fried acknowledged an $8 billion difference between what she owed clients and what FTX I could pay.
So I sympathized with Mark Cohen, the defense attorney, who didn’t seem to have much to work with. But then his final statement managed to make things worse? For starters, he appeared to be reading directly from a document he had created, rather than looking at the jury. He spoke quietly, almost in a monotone, as if he hoped to lull the jurors to sleep.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cohen emphasized that the errors are not illegal. And he sought to present Alameda and FTX as legitimate and innovative businesses. It was a little difficult to understand exactly what they were innovating or how, but it doesn’t matter. It is true that at its peak, FTX’s valuation was very high.
Cohen said the prosecution was trying to make Bankman-Fried a villain. So he showed the jury a series of photos that made Bankman-Fried look, well, bad: him hanging out with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, lounging on a private jet, and at the Super Bowl with Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom. I don’t know because Cohen chose to remind us of these photos, but he did. Yes, the prosecution was painting an uncharitable picture of Bankman-Fried, but there is no need to reinforce he.
Cohen presented topics that I think were intended to confuse the jury, but seemed to simply bore them.
We learned that Bankman-Fried worked very hard, 12 hours a day, which seemed like a lot: Bankman-Fried had previously testified that she worked up to 22 hours a day. But he couldn’t tell you exactly what he was doing all that time, since there were very few testimonies about it. Similarly, I heard a lot about a data protection policy that the defense failed to craft.
According to Cohen, the government’s cross-examination had been unfair to Bankman-Fried: if he answered at length, Roos framed his answers as too rambling, and if he answered briefly, Roos said he sounded evasive. Look, I was there, and I know word salads and evasions when I hear them. It’s kind of my business! Bankman-Fried’s answers to questions he didn’t like, even when raised by the royal judge, they were not good. He said that he was “far from refined” and that “he was himself; he was Sam” he doesn’t really do the job. He especially doesn’t get the job done when the Bankman-Fried we saw in the direct examination was warmer, funnier, and very different than the one we saw in the crossover. That Bankman-Fried looked very similar to the one we knew from his media appearances before November 2022.
Cohen presented topics that I think were intended to confuse the jury, but seemed to simply bore them. During a long digression about Alameda’s net asset value, for example, I saw several jurors look at the clock at the back of the room. The same was true with the discussion about FTX’s risk engines.
Cohen even managed to sound off Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison. further reliable, no less, in defending the tweets he sent in the November period when FTX was failing. That’s an unforced error. Undermining Ellison’s testimony (along with that of Gary Wang, Adam Yedidia, and Nishad Singh) was one of the rare tactics I could imagine working for Bankman-Fried’s defense. If Cohen says she’s reliable here, why should we doubt her elsewhere?
Even the most talented defense attorney would have a difficult time with this case.
We have yet to hear the prosecution’s rebuttal to Cohen’s arguments, such as they were, before the case goes to the jury. But I think even the most talented defense attorney would have a hard time with this case. The prosecution’s documentary evidence is too overwhelming and there is very little evidence to support Bankman-Fried’s account of the events, contradicting the three cooperating witnesses, and Yedidia, who has not been charged with anything. Furthermore, the last person the jury heard speak was Bankman-Fried, and we established in detail that he loves to lie.
The main thing the closing arguments made clear was how lopsided the case was. Bankman-Fried’s defense seems to be that he is a good guy who would never do anything to hurt anyone on purpose. An introvert! Who doesn’t even use recreational drugs! When Cohen asked the jury to keep him in mind as he deliberated, Bankman-Fried crumpled the water bottle in his hand, making a noise. Looking up, I saw that he was looking directly at the jury, with an expression on his face that suggested he might cry.
Bankman-Fried is right to be scared. He brought excuses. The prosecution presented receipts.