What does Sam Bankman-Fried’s sentencing mean for crypto? | Explained


FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried stands at the defense table to make a statement to U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan at Federal Court in New York City, U.S., March 28, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried stands at the defense table to make a statement to U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan at Federal Court in New York City, U.S., March 28, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
| Photo Credit: REUTERS

The story so far: Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of the collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on March 28, having been found guilty of multiple counts of fraud in 2023 after the spectacular crash of his cryptocurrency exchange FTX.

Almost one and a half years after the crash, what does the sentencing mean for the crypto sector and its investors?

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What are the full terms of the sentence?

While Bankman-Fried’s lawyers tried to push for a shorter prison sentence of just a few years, prosecutors wanted to see him in prison for 40 to 50 years. Meanwhile, the maximum possible sentence was 110 years.

Throughout a month-long trial in 2023, Bankman-Fried’s legal team tried to steer away from the image of him being a malicious fraudster who stole crypto investors’ money, and instead painted a portrait of a well-intentioned businessman who had been let down by his trusted associates. Attorney Mark Mukasey referred to Bankman-Fried as an “awkward math nerd,” spoke about his autism, and pushed for a shorter sentence so that his client would be able to start a family.

When he was sentenced to 25 years in prison and three years of supervised release, Bankman-Fried accepted that FTX customers had suffered and that such an acknowledgment was “missing” from what he had spoken about during the trial. He also expressed regret about the way he treated his former colleagues.

Bankman-Fried, a former billionaire, will also have to give up around $11 billion as part of the sentence. During the legal proceedings, it was established that customers lost at least $8 billion, though this figure may vary due to the volatile nature of cryptocurrencies’ prices.

The judge authorised the government to use the funds recovered through the forfeiture process to compensate victims, per the U.S. Department of Justice direction released on Thursday.

Bankman-Fried’s lawyer is planning to appeal.

What were the charges against Sam Bankman-Fried?

Two counts of wire fraud conspiracy: Convicted

Two counts of wire fraud: Convicted

One count of conspiracy to commit money laundering: Convicted

Conspiracy to commit commodities fraud: Convicted

Conspiracy to commit securities fraud: Convicted

In total, there were seven counts of fraud and/or related charges.

FTX collapsed in late 2022 as customers panicked about the health of the exchange and tried to rapidly pull billions of dollars, triggering a liquidity crisis. It was later established that Bankman-Fried misused customer funds to prop up Alameda Research, a cryptocurrency trading firm. Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas a month later and was brought back to the U.S. to face trial.

In a statement on Thursday, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, used the sentencing to issue a warning that focused on Bankman-Fried as a financial criminal rather than a fraudster in the crypto industry.

“Samuel Bankman-Fried orchestrated one of the largest financial frauds in history, stealing over $8 billion of his customers’ money,” said Williams. “His deliberate and ongoing lies demonstrated a brazen disregard for customers’ expectations and disrespect for the rule of law, all so that he could secretly use his customers’ money to expand his own power and influence. The scale of his crimes is measured not just by the amount of money that was stolen, but by the extraordinary harm caused to victims, who in some cases had their life savings wiped out overnight.”

The co-founder and ex-CEO of FTX has been in custody since last year, because he violated his bail conditions and engaged in witness tampering, according to the judge.

Will FTX users get their money back?

There is no way to be certain of this, but such an outcome looks highly unlikely, with different parties making vastly different claims about the state of FTX’s assets.

Lawyer Andrew Dietderich, who is working with the collapsed crypto exchange, said earlier this year that a strategy was in place to try and repay all those customers and creditors with “legitimate claims,” CNBC reported.

Bankman-Fried also said earlier that people would be paid back.

However, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan expressed doubt during the sentencing, noting, “The defendant’s assertion that FTX customers and creditors will be paid in full is misleading, it is logically flawed, it is speculative.”

How will the sentencing affect the crypto market?

Bankman-Fried’s high-profile arrest, his disgraced return to the U.S., and the dramatic court proceedings where his own former colleagues and even a romantic partner testified against him, made headlines worldwide. His chaotic testimony and uncooperative behaviour stunned even the judge, and did not help to turn public opinion in his favour.

The cryptocurrency market itself seemed largely unaffected by the news of the sentencing, as top coins Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH) did not dramatically spike or fall in the past few days. While FTX’s token is still trading, it fell by more than 13% on Friday and was worth less than $2, when compared to its all-time-high of $85.02.

“The FTX bankruptcy proceedings are underway. The FTT token no longer has any use, and may be liquidated by the estate to pay creditors. Please proceed with caution,” said a notice on its CoinMarketCap page.

Bitcoin this year marked a new all-time-high in price and crossed the $70,000 threshold, injecting the sector with optimism after around two years of depressed prices and a reputational crisis.

FTX was founded in 2019 and former CEO Sam Bankman-Fried was known for his casual dress sense, lavish lifestyle, and a controversial approach to charity known as ‘effective altruism.’ Bankman-Fried was also a prolific political donator in the U.S. who gave millions of dollars to individuals from both parties, while FTX was known for its high-profile advertising gimmicks, including commercials with comedian Larry David and American football athlete Tom Brady.

The 25-year-long prison sentence serves as a reminder to crypto entrepreneurs everywhere that U.S. regulators can strike quickly when it comes to the fintech sector.

The greatest loss, however, is usually borne by risk-taking investors.

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