FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried was charged with eight criminal counts, including conspiracy and wire fraud, for allegedly misusing billions of dollars in customers’ funds before the spectacular collapse of his cryptocurrency empire.
An indictment detailing the charges was unsealed by a federal court judge in Manhattan on Tuesday morning following weeks of speculation the 30-year-old would end up in handcuffs after his company - one of the biggest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world - ended up in bankruptcy last month.
The indictment alleges that Bankman-Fried agreed with others “to defraud customers of FTX.com by misappropriating those customers’ deposits and using those deposits to pay expenses and debts of Alameda Research”.
The stunning development came on the back of police in the Bahamas arresting Bankman-Fried on Monday evening, hours before he was due to testify before US Congress about FTX’s downfall. Earlier on Tuesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission went after Bankman-Fried for his role in the collapse of FTX in separate court filings.
Bankman-Fried spent the night in a local police station in Nassau and is due to face arraignment in magistrate court later Tuesday. He has admitted to grievous managerial missteps but vehemently denied knowingly committing fraud or breaking the law.
Prosecutors claim Bankman-Fried and other executives used FTX customer deposits to pay off his crypto fund, Alameda Research, beginning in 2019. They claim he provided false information to lenders about Alameda’s financial condition and misled customers about FTX’s finances, conspired to launder the proceeds of the fraud and used some of the money in violation of US campaign finance laws.
The indictment accuses Bankman-Fried of working with others to make corporate contributions to political candidates and committees that exceeded the $25,000 annual limit, and making donations in the name of other people to avoid that limit.
The case was assigned to US District Judge Ronnie Abrams.
Manhattan prosecutors began investigating the collapse of FTX last month amid allegations billions of dollars had been commingled between the platform and sister trading house Alameda Research.
The probe has been spearheaded by the Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit at the Southern District of New York US Attorney’s Office. The speed at which an arrest has been made is uncommon in complex financial crime cases, especially with a dearth of company records.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said on Twitter on Monday that complicated fraud cases often take years to prosecute but SBF’s is an exception because his actions are difficult to justify.
His customers were told their money would remain at FTX but a lot of it went to a different company, and some to him, via a loan, Mariotti wrote.
Lawyers and FTX’s newly appointed CEO, restructuring expert John Jay Ray III, have spent weeks poring over the group’s patchy financial documents and attempting to secure assets to repay creditors.
Last week the bankruptcy team and Ray met with prosecutors at SDNY’s offices in downtown Manhattan.
Bankman-Fried has participated in dozens of media interviews since the downfall of FTX, despite allegations he oversaw the misappropriation of customer funds on an enormous scale.
Now that he is in custody, he will have a choice between fighting extradition to the US to formally face the charges or waiving his right to a hearing.