The Two Faces of Sam Bankman-Fried: Criminal or Visionary?

On a crisp Wednesday morning in Manhattan's federal court, jurors freshly sworn in were presented with two opposing narratives about the stunning collapse of one of the most talked-about crypto ventures of our times.

by Faruk Imamovic
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The Two Faces of Sam Bankman-Fried: Criminal or Visionary?
© Getty Images News/Michael M. Santiago

On a crisp Wednesday morning in Manhattan's federal court, jurors freshly sworn in were presented with two opposing narratives about the stunning collapse of one of the most talked-about crypto ventures of our times.

"Built on Lies": The Prosecution's Take

The courtroom's atmosphere grew thick with tension as Assistant US Attorney Thane Rehn began his opening statement.

Portraying Sam Bankman-Fried as nothing less than a criminal mastermind, Rehn charged that Bankman-Fried's insatiable thirst for wealth and dominance was his undoing. The vision that Rehn painted was clear, "He had wealth, he had power, he had influence,” but Rehn claimed that “all of that — all of it — was built on lies”.

It was last year when Bankman-Fried's crypto-trading platform, FTX, saw a catastrophic failure. Now, at just 31, he stands charged with multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy by the US government. The prosecution's narrative, as Rehn underlined, is that Bankman-Fried didn't act alone.

He allegedly enlisted others in his web of deceit, and as the conspiracy grew, so did the lies, culminating in the theft of billions from unsuspecting customers.

In Defense of the "Math Nerd": Cohen's Version

As the prosecution rested, the defense, led by Cohen, sought to repaint the picture.

This wasn’t a tale of deceit, but one of ambition, innovation, and unfortunate circumstances. Cohen introduced the jury to a different Sam – not a fraudster, but a hardworking entrepreneur who had his customers' best interests at heart.

Referring to Bankman-Fried affectionately as "SBF," Cohen painted a picture of “a math nerd who didn’t drink or party”. He worked diligently, navigating the volatile and unpredictable realm of cryptocurrencies.

Drawing an analogy, Cohen suggested that like many startups, Bankman-Fried and his team were "building the plane as they were flying it." As if to suggest the unforeseeable challenges of the industry, he hinted at the "perfect storm" of 2022 when the crypto world faced significant turbulence.

Cohen reminded the jury, “It’s not a crime to be the CEO of a company that later files for bankruptcy”.

Sam Bankman-fried
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