After two weeks of watching his closest friends describe the collapse of his FTX cryptocurrency exchange, Sam Bankman-Fried’s lawyers raised the possibility of their client testifying at his own trial.
They complained to Judge Lewis Kaplan late Sunday about the lack of access to Adderall in prison, arguing that Bankman-Fried was unable to “meaningly” participate in the trial because he had not received his full dose of Adderall, which The case is that he is prescribed treatment for his ADHD and depression. It’s an issue that has been raised repeatedly since Bankman-Fried was jailed in August.
“As we approach the defense case and the critical decision of whether Mr. Bankman-Fried will testify,” attorney Mark Cohen said in a heavily redacted five-page letter filed with the court, “the defense has a growing concern that because of Mr . Due to Bankman-Fried’s lack of access to Adderall, he has been unable to concentrate at the level he normally would and he will not be able to meaningfully participate in the presentation of the defense case.”
Defending herself on the witness stand is the hardest decision Bankman-Fried will have to make in this trial. It’s also a risky strategy that white-collar crime defendants tend to stay away from. But after failing to refute the statements of FTX co-founder Gary Wang – his former college roommate – and Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison – Bankman-Fried’s former girlfriend – this could be one of the only remaining options, legal experts say .
On Monday, another of his friends, Nishad Singh, the former technical director at FTX, commented. Singh told the court that he had always been intimidated by Bankman-Fried, prompting defense lawyers to lodge an objection, which was rejected.
“You have to make a real decision,” said Christine Adams, a former federal prosecutor. “Because what other options do they have to deploy their defenses?”
Bankman-Fried faces decades in prison on charges that he funneled FTX customer funds to Alameda Research, an affiliated hedge fund, for risky trades, political donations and expensive real estate before both companies went bankrupt last year.
If he is convicted and the judge finds he lied, that could lengthen his sentence and the testimony could make the appeal more difficult. A panel could find that the jury simply rejected Bankman-Fried’s story, ignoring any errors the judge might have made.
Bankman-Fried is unlikely to say whether he will take the stand until the last minute – after prosecutors rest their case. His lawyers did not immediately respond to a request to comment on whether their client would testify.
But Ellison and Wang’s testimony may have already limited his options.
On the witness stand, both senior executives explained the extent of their knowledge of what Bankman-Fried allegedly knew about the alleged fraud. They lived with him in a $30 million penthouse in the Bahamas shared by FTX executives and employees.
“One first-hand witness after another was in the room, at the table, when very damaging things were said, and the person who said them and the person who directed the crime and the transfer of the money was him,” Michael said Weinstein, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. “It’s very, very difficult to counteract that.”
Wang, Ellison and Singh pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. Previously, former FTX software developer Adam Yedidia testified as a prosecution witness as part of an immunity grant.
Bankman-Fried also talked a lot: with reporters, with investors and with author Michael Lewis, who accompanied him at critical points in the FTX crisis for a book about the crypto mogul. If he deviates from his previous statements, the jury and prosecutors will know about it.
“It just seems to me that when he testifies, it’s a Hail Mary,” Adams said.
Some of Bankman-Fried’s tweets and text messages in group chats are already being used as evidence against him in court.
It is unusual for defendants to testify as employees, but not unheard of. Recent examples include former Theranos Inc. CEO Elizabeth Holmes and Brijesh Goel, a former Goldman Sachs banker, who were both convicted after taking the stand.
Holmes was convicted of fraud in 2022 and Goel was convicted of insider trading in June. Holmes, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence, is appealing. Goel will be sentenced on November 1.
Wang and Ellison both admitted early in their testimony that they had committed a multibillion-dollar fraud, telling jurors that Bankman-Fried instructed him to change the cryptocurrency exchange’s code so that Alameda could draw a limit of $65 billion of the loan.
Later, when FTX was on the verge of bankruptcy, Wang testified that a reassuring tweet from Bankman-Fried was a lie.