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Prosecutors used Sam Bankman-Fried's own words against him in cross-examination


Soon Sam Bankman-Fried's fate will be in a jury's hands. Today the disgraced founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX finished testifying in his own defense. It was a high-stakes gamble, and it culminated with a cross-examination of Bankman-Fried over two days. NPR's David Gura was at the courthouse. He is with us now. Hey, David.

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Did the gamble pay off? How'd the cross go?

GURA: Well, there were fireworks. This was Sam Bankman-Fried's Hail Mary moment, his last-ditch effort to save himself. And I think it's fair to say it didn't go quite the way he wanted. The prosecution very effectively portrayed Bankman-Fried as the perpetrator of one of the largest financial frauds in history. They had three cooperating witnesses, and their testimony was, as I said, very compelling. Each of them - including Bankman-Fried's ex-girlfriend Caroline Ellison, who ran Alameda Research, this crypto-focused trading firm that Bankman-Fried controlled - said the defendant directed them to commit crimes and that it was his decision to funnel billions of dollars of FTX customer money to Alameda Research and to spend that money on investments and luxury real estate and to use some of it to pay down debts.

Now, Bankman-Fried really needed a big moment, but this did not go that well for him. During the cross-examination, prosecutors used Bankman-Fried's own words against him. They had social media posts, excerpts of TV interviews and podcast interviews, data from Google that showed what company documents Bankman-Fried looked at and when. And whenever Bankman-Fried was evasive or said he couldn't remember something, be that a meeting or a conversation or something he told colleagues or customers, the lead prosecutor, Danielle Sassoon, introduced evidence that highlighted what I guess we could charitably call inconsistencies in his testimony.

KELLY: Wow. How bad did things get for him?

GURA: It was, at times, difficult to watch, again, because those inconsistencies were so apparent. Remember; Sam Bankman-Fried was a celebrity in a new industry, and during his heyday, he seemed to be everywhere. So there was a lot of evidence that prosecutors could choose from - interviews, speeches, congressional testimony. And a lot of that showed Bankman-Fried was very engaged in the day-to-day activities of both FTX and Alameda Research. It appeared he knew what was going on with billions of dollars of missing customer funds, and that directly contradicts statements he made earlier in the trial - that he was too busy to know everything that was going on, that he was in over his head. You could see Bankman-Fried's face fall when the prosecution shared his past statements with the jury. His answers when his lawyer was asking the questions were so expansive. During the cross, we heard a lot more noes and yeps, and Judge Lewis Kaplan admonished him when he would try to stall and rephrase prosecutors' questions.

KELLY: OK, but back to this gamble that we said he made. He wanted to tell his version of what happened. This was his choice. Was he at least somewhat successful in his goal?

GURA: Well, we'll see soon enough. The prosecution has to convince 12 jurors that Bankman-Fried is guilty. The defense only needs to sow reasonable doubt in one of them for their client to go free. During the direct examination, Bankman-Fried was, at times, contrite. He admitted to having made mistakes. He told the court he regretted FTX didn't have a chief risk officer. And Bankman-Fried tried to highlight how overwhelmed he was as FTX and Alameda Research grew at this breakneck pace into these multibillion-dollar companies in just a matter of years. Again, the prosecutors presented a lot of evidence that directly contradicted that. And when he blamed those deputies for mismanaging the companies, the U.S. government noted he was the boss, and if he really thought that they were falling down on the job, he could have disciplined them or removed them. And the prosecution pointed out Bankman-Fried did neither of those things.

KELLY: OK - timing. David, when does this head to the jury?

GURA: Well, on Wednesday, both the prosecution and the defense will present closing arguments. Each of those is expected to last for a couple of hours. And then Judge Lewis Kaplan will give the jury their instructions. Bankman-Fried faces seven criminal counts. This is going to take a bit of time. The judge will have to take a few hours to explain all these charges. This has been a long trial, Mary Louise. It got underway at the beginning of the month, and the judge has said several times he is trying to be mindful of everyone's time. It does seem like the jurors could begin deliberating, weighing whether or not Sam Bankman-Fried is guilty tomorrow, maybe early Thursday.

KELLY: Come back and update us then.

GURA: I will.

KELLY: NPR's David Gura. Thank you.

GURA: Thank you.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.