By Jack Queen and Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters)—Sam Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to criminal charges that he cheated investors in his now-bankrupt FTX cryptocurrency exchange, causing billions of dollars in losses in what prosecutors have called an epic fraud.
The 30-year-old defendant entered his plea through his lawyer to eight criminal counts, including wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, before U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan federal court.
Kaplan set an Oct. 2 trial date. A federal prosecutor, Danielle Sassoon, estimated that a trial could take four weeks, and said the government will soon turn over hundreds of thousands of documents of evidence to defense lawyers.
Bankman-Fried is accused of looting billions of dollars in FTX customer deposits to support his Alameda Research hedge fund, buy real estate and make millions of dollars in political contributions.
It is common for criminal defendants to initially plead not guilty. They may change their pleas later.
Bankman-Fried, now clean-shaven, sported a blue suit, white shirt and dotted blue tie and carried a backpack into the courthouse.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate could face up to 115 years in prison if convicted.
Bankman-Fried rode a boom in the value of bitcoin and other digital assets to build a net worth of an estimated $26 billion and become an influential political donor in the United States.
But FTX collapsed in early November after a wave of withdrawals and declared bankruptcy on Nov. 11, wiping out Bankman-Fried’s fortune. He later said he had $100,000 in his bank account.
PARENTS RECEIVE THREATS
Bankman-Fried was extradited last month from the Bahamas, where he lived and where the exchange was based.
Since his release on a $250 million bond on Dec. 22, Bankman-Fried has been subject to electronic monitoring and required to live with his parents, Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried, both professors at Stanford Law School in California.
Kaplan granted Bankman-Fried’s request not to publicize the names of two additional co-signers for the bond.
Lawyers for Bankman-Fried have said his parents, who co-signed the bond, have been receiving physical threats since FTX’s collapse, and that other co-signers might face similar harassment unless their names were kept secret.
The judge also imposed a new bail condition, saying Bankman-Fried cannot access FTX or Alameda assets.
Prosecutors’ case was strengthened by last month’s guilty pleas of two of Bankman-Fried’s closest associates.
Caroline Ellison, who was Alameda’s chief executive, and Gary Wang, FTX’s former chief technology officer, pleaded guilty to seven and four criminal charges, respectively, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Bankman-Fried, Ellison and Wang were also sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Ellison and Wang settled those civil cases.
FTX’s new chief executive, John Ray, known for his work on energy company Enron Corp’s bankruptcy, has said FTX was run by “grossly inexperienced” and unsophisticated people.
(Reporting by Jack Queen and Luc Cohen in New YorkAdditional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New YorkEditing by Noeleen Walder and Matthew Lewis)
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