Sam Bankman-Fried “scoffed” as his former paramour and business partner, Caroline Ellison, testified against him in his Manhattan federal court crypto fraud trial, prosecutors alleged.
This accusation against Bankman-Fried – who faces seven counts related to the collapse of FTX – came during a sidebar between lawyers and judge Lewis Kaplan on Wednesday that was audible neither to the courtroom gallery nor the jury. Transcripts of the trial published on Thursday detailed the exchange.
“Your honor, given where I’m standing, I’ve noticed several times since the lunch break that in response to things the witness has said, the defendant has laughed, visibly shaken his head, and scoffed,” said prosecutor Danielle Sassoon, who had been conducting direct examination of Ellison.
Bankman-Fried’s lawyers cast Caroline Ellison as architect of FTX collapseRead more
Sassoon said Bankman-Fried’s allegedly outsized reactions could intimidate the witness. The disgraced crypto entrepreneur had his bail revoked in August after leaking documents about Ellison. Kaplan found accusations of witness tampering had probable cause after entries from her diary were published in the New York Times.
“And obviously I’m not communicating with the witness, but it’s possible it’s having a visible effect on her, especially given the history of this relationship, the prior attempts to intimidate her, the power dynamic, their romantic relationship, and I would ask that defense counsel tell him to control his visible reactions to her testimony,” Sassoon added.
Bankman-Fried’s lawyers pushed back on Sassoon’s allegations of performative sighing.
“Your honor, this is ridiculous,” the defense lawyer Mark Cohen replied. “The defendant is attending this trial. If he’s having any reaction at all, that’s for your honor and the jury to decide.”
Cohen disputed that Ellison could feel intimidated, citing the moments-long lag it took her to point out Bankman-Fried in court. “I am offended by counsel’s position, and the notion that someone who she couldn’t even pick out in the courtroom, after we stipulated to this, is trying to intimidate her is ridiculous,” he said.
Cohen took issue with the prosecution’s portrayal of Bankman-Fried. “I will note that the government is going out of its way to present highly cumulative evidence portraying our – my client as a very dirty person,” Cohen said, griping about a photo of Bankman-Fried playing cards. There are now seven photographs “to show his hair or with playing cards with no probative evidence”, Cohen said.
Ellison testified on Wednesday in detail about how her relationship with Bankman-Fried had affected the fates of the businesses they ran together, FTX and its sister hedge fund, Alameda Research.
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Kaplan said that he was dealing with “honorable” lawyers and could accept both Sassoon and Cohen’s viewpoints – that the prosecutor believed she saw scoffing and that Cohen was “offended”.
The judge asked Cohen to talk “to your client and have a word with him. You know how best to put it. And if he’s doing anything, it should stop; and if he’s not, then no harm, no foul.”
He added: “And I’ll keep an eye on him, to the extent I can, because I’m taking copious notes too. And we’ll see what happens. OK?”
Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to the wire fraud and conspiracy charges against him.