The US Securities and Exchange Commission is issuing a litany of fraud charges against Sam Bankman-Fried, who was arrested Monday night in the Bahamas. Bankman-Fried (frequently referred to as SBF) is the 30-year-old co-founder and former CEO of FTX, the once massively popular, multibillion dollar cryptocurrency exchange platform whose bankruptcy filing and subsequent collapse shocked the global crypto economy in recent months. Bankman-Fried is due in Bahamian court Tuesday, where US law enforcement is expected to request his extradition to the US.
According to the SEC’s official civil complaint released Tuesday, US regulators are charging Bankman-Fried with defrauding FTX’s equity investors, as well as its customers who relied on FTX to buy, sell, and trade billions of dollars of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, as well as the exchange’s own native token. An unsealed indictment published Tuesday charges Bankman-Fried with wire fraud against customers and lenders, conspiracy to commit wire, commodities, and securities fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, as well as conspiracy to defraud the United States and violate campaign finance laws.
At the center of the investigations is Alameda Research LLC, a privately held crypto hedge fund co-founded in 2017 by Bankman-Fried. The SEC claims Alameda became a personal piggy bank for company executives to finance their lavish lifestyles in the Bahamas, where FTX was based.
[Related: Your questions about FTX’s meltdown and crypto’s bad year, answered.]
Bankman-Fried repeatedly swore over the years that FTX was one of the most stable crypto exchanges available thanks in part to its supposedly automated risk mitigation procedures alongside an automated liquidation process. As customers flocked to FTX for crypto investments, banking, and exchanges, the company soared to an estimated $32 billion valuation in just a few years. Meanwhile, the SEC alleges Bankman-Fried funneled billions of their funds into Alameda for the hedge fund’s various venture investments, political donations, and real estate purchases. At its height, FTX garnered celebrity sports endorsements from Tom Brady and Shaq, and has its name on the Miami Heat’s arena, among other accolades and sponsorships.
The SEC claims what could quickly become one of the country’s largest fraud cases occurred largely due to Bankman-Fried reportedly granting Alameda an undisclosed, ostensibly unlimited line of credit. Additionally, the hedge fund company had a hidden exemption from FTX’s purported automated liquidation processes, meaning investors supposedly could trust to be paid back in full in the event of bankruptcy or dissolution.
[Related: Georgia man pleads guilty to stealing over $3 billion in Bitcoin.]
In early November 2022, however, an article published via the cryptocurrency news site, CoinDesk, cast doubt on the tenuous web of Bankman-Fried’s various financial dealings between FTX, Alameda, and over 130 other affiliated company entities. The ensuing liquidity crisis brought on by consumers and investors wishing to withdraw their funds—a scenario Bankman-Fried repeatedly assured investors, regulators, and the public FTX could handle—revealed the crypto empire’s hollowness, sending prices tumbling and erasing countless life savings and investments. Both FTX and Alameda filed for bankruptcy less than a week later. It is unclear if those affected by the fallout will ever be able to fully recover lost funds, or when. Sources estimate that billions of dollars are still owed to customers and investors.
Last month, Bankman-Fried candidly admitted to a host of potential criminal and unsavory activities while discussing his predicament with Vox reporter, Kelsey Piper, including shadily moving millions of dollars between FTX and Alameda, as well as essentially conceding previous touting of ethical investments and philanthropy were all simple branding attempts to attract more investors.