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U.S. judge revokes Sam Bankman-Fried’s bail, saying FTX founder tampered with witnesses

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried was ordered jailed on Friday to await trial after a bail hearing for the fallen cryptocurrency wiz left a judge convinced that he had repeatedly tried to influence witnesses against him.

Prosecutors allege he shared ex-girlfriend's writings with the New York Times

A person is seen walking away from a car.

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried left a federal courtroom in handcuffs Friday after a judge revoked his bail after concluding that the fallen cryptocurrency wiz had repeatedly tried to influence witnesses against him.

Bankman-Fried looked down at his hands as judge Lewis A. Kaplan explained at length why he believed the California man had repeatedly pushed the boundaries of his $250 million US bail package to a point that Kaplan could no longer ensure the protection of the community, including prosecutors' witnesses, unless the 31-year-old was behind bars.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Bankman-Fried took off his suit jacket and tie and turned his watch and other personal belongings over to his lawyers. The clanging of handcuffs could be heard as his hands were cuffed in front of him. He was then led out of the courtroom by U.S. marshals.

It was a spectacular fall for a man once viewed by many as a savvy crypto visionary who had testified before Congress and hired celebrities including Larry David, Tom Brady and Stephen Curry to promote his businesses.

Kaplan said there was probable cause to believe Bankman-Fried had tried to "tamper with witnesses at least twice" since his December arrest, most recently by showing a journalist the private writings of a former girlfriend and key witness against him and in January when he reached out to FTX's general counsel with an encrypted communication.

This photo illustration features a mobile phone app.

The judge said he concluded there was a probability that Bankman-Fried had tried to influence both anticipated trial witnesses "and quite likely others whose names we don't even know" to get them to "back off, to have them hedge their cooperation with the government."

Bankman-Fried's lawyers insisted that their client's motives were innocent and he shouldn't be jailed for trying to protect his reputation against a barrage of unfavourable news stories.

Attorney Mark Cohen asked the judge to suspend his incarceration order for an immediate appeal, but Kaplan rejected the request. Within an hour, defence lawyers had filed a notice of appeal.

Correspondence with New York Times

Bankman-Fried has been under house arrest at his parents' home in Palo Alto, Calif., since his December extradition from the Bahamas on charges that he defrauded investors in his businesses and illegally diverted millions of dollars' worth of cryptocurrency from customers using his FTX exchange.

His bail package severely restricts his internet and phone usage.

The judge noted that the strict rules did not stop him from reaching out in January to a top FTX lawyer, saying he "would really love to reconnect and see if there's a way for us to have a constructive relationship, use each other as resources when possible, or at least vet things with each other."

At a February hearing, Kaplan said the communication "suggests to me that maybe he has committed or attempted to commit a federal felony while on release."

A judge and a defendant are seen in this courtroom sketch.

On Friday, Kaplan said he was rejecting defence claims that the communication was benign.

Instead, he said, it seems to be an invitation for the FTX general counsel "to get together with Bankman-Fried" so that their recollections "are on the same page."

Two weeks ago, prosecutors surprised Bankman-Fried's lawyers by demanding his incarceration, saying he violated those rules by giving the New York Times the private writings of Caroline Ellison, his former girlfriend and the ex-CEO of Alameda Research, a cryptocurrency trading hedge fund that was one of his businesses.

A building with the writing, 'The New York Times,' on it is seen.

Prosecutors maintained he was trying to sully her reputation and influence prospective jurors who might be summoned for his October trial by sharing deep thoughts about her job and the romantic relationship she had with Bankman-Fried.

The judge said Friday that the excerpts of Ellison's communications that Bankman-Fried had shared with a reporter were the kinds of things that somebody who'd been in a relationship with somebody "would be very unlikely to share with anybody, lest The New York Times, except to hurt, discredit, and frighten the subject of the material."

Ellison pleaded guilty in December to criminal charges carrying a potential penalty of 110 years in prison. She has agreed to testify against Bankman-Fried as part of a deal that could lead to a more lenient sentence.

WATCH | 'One of the biggest financial frauds in American history':

FTX founder charged with multiple financial crimes

8 months ago

Duration 2:02

The U.S. government has charged Samuel Bankman-Fried, the founder of now-defunct cryptocurrency exchange FTX, with a host of financial crimes after being arrested in the Bahamas. He faces decades in prison if convicted.

Bankman-Fried's lawyers argued he probably failed in a quest to defend his reputation because the article cast Ellison in a sympathetic light and that prosecutors exaggerated the role Bankman-Fried had in the article.

They also said prosecutors were trying to get their client locked up by offering evidence consisting of "innuendo, speculation and scant facts."

David McCraw, a lawyer for the Times, had written to the judge, noting the First Amendment implications of any blanket gag order, as well as public interest in Ellison and her cryptocurrency trading firm.

Ellison confessed to a central role in a scheme defrauding investors of billions of dollars that went undetected, McCraw said.

"It is not surprising that the public wants to know more about who she is and what she did and that news organizations would seek to provide to the public timely, pertinent and fairly reported information about her, as the Times did in its story," McCraw said.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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