US prosecutors rest case against FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried

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Companies Champion Trust Llc Follow NEW YORK, Oct 26 (Reuters) – Federal prosecutors rested their case against FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried on Thursday after presenting 12 days of testimony in which former colleagues at the now-bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange said he directed them to divert customer funds to his hedge fund and lie to investors and lenders. That paves the way for the defense to begin presenting its case in the fraud trial. Defense lawyer Mark Cohen said in a court hearing on Wednesday that Bankman-Fried would testify, a risky move that would give prosecutors the chance to cross-examine the 31-year-old former billionaire about testimony from former close colleagues that he directed them to commit crimes. The final prosecution witness, FBI agent Marc Troiano, testified about Bankman-Fried’s use of the encrpyted messaging application Signal when the trial resumed on Thursday morning in federal court in Manhattan after a week-long break. Troiano said Signal groups that Bankman-Fried was in with colleagues often were set to delete messages automatically, as jurors saw screenshots from a phone belonging to Caroline Ellison, the former chief executive of Bankman-Fried’s Alameda Research hedge fund and his on-and-off girlfriend. Ellison testified earlier in the trial that Bankman-Fried directed employees to “be careful with what we put in writing, and not put into writing something that could get us into legal trouble.” Cohen said on Wednesday the defense plans to call three brief witnesses before Bankman-Fried takes the stand. Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to two counts of fraud and five counts of conspiracy. If convicted, Bankman-Fried could face decades in prison. Prosecutors have said Bankman-Fried used the misappropriated funds to prop up his crypto-focused hedge fund, Alameda Research, make speculative venture investments, and donate more than $100 million to U.S. political campaigns. Legal experts have said Bankman-Fried has little to lose by bucking conventional wisdom and testifying, given weeks of testimony against him by insiders painting an unflattering portrait of his character. He has already taken an unusual approach for a criminal defendant. Instead of laying low after he was charged, he published blog posts on his view of what went wrong and met with several journalists. Bankman-Fried has maintained that while he made mistakes running FTX, he never intended to steal funds. His lawyers have said three of his former colleagues, who have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, tailored their testimony to implicate Bankman-Fried in the hopes of receiving lenient sentences. Cohen in a Wednesday evening court filing told U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan he wanted to ask Bankman-Fried about FTX lawyers’ involvement in structuring loans from Alameda to FTX executives, which prosecutors have said was a key way the defendant and others took funds from unwitting customers. But Cohen said Bankman-Fried’s “knowledge that lawyers were involved in structuring and documenting the loans would be probative of his good-faith belief that there was nothing inappropriate.” Prosecutors may ask Bankman-Fried about why he did not disclose Alameda’s privileges to FTX customers or equity investors, and why he posted on social media in the midst of a wave of customer withdrawals last November that FTX was “fine” when he knew it was short billions of dollars in funds. In the letter, Cohen said Bankman-Fried reserves the right to decide not to testify. Cohen said on an earlier conference call the defense could finish presenting its case by Friday, paving the way for closing arguments and jury deliberations next week. Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham, Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. Acquire Licensing Rights, opens new tab Luc Cohen Thomson Reuters Reports on the New York federal courts. Previously worked as a correspondent in Venezuela and Argentina. Jody Godoy Thomson Reuters Jody Godoy reports on banking and securities law. Reach her at jody.godoy@thomsonreuters.com

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