Caroline Ellison, the former CEO of Alameda Research and the ex-girlfriend of Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of FTX, took the stand in his fraud trial on Wednesday and revealed how he orchestrated a massive scheme to steal billions of dollars from FTX customers. Ellison said she prepared seven different balance sheets to obscure the missing funds and that Bankman-Fried ordered her to find “alternative ways” to present them to lenders. She also said that she knew what she was doing was wrong and that she was in a “constant state of dread” as the crypto markets crashed in 2022.
Ellison, who has pleaded guilty to fraud charges and agreed to cooperate with the prosecutors, said that Bankman-Fried was the ultimate decision-maker for both Alameda and FTX, two supposedly separate companies that were in fact deeply financially intertwined. She said that Bankman-Fried set up the system that allowed Alameda to take money from FTX customer accounts and use it for risky investments and to pay back debts. She also said that he could have fired her at any time and that he was her boss and boyfriend, which created “a lot of awkward situations”.
The Rise and Fall of FTX
FTX was one of the most popular and successful cryptocurrency trading platforms in the world, with millions of customers and billions of dollars in transactions. Bankman-Fried, a 31-year-old Stanford graduate and former Wall Street trader, co-founded FTX in 2019 and became one of the richest and most influential figures in the crypto industry. He was known for his philanthropy, his advocacy for effective altruism, and his support for various social causes.
However, behind the scenes, Bankman-Fried was also running Alameda Research, his personal hedge fund, which he used to make speculative bets on the volatile crypto markets. According to Ellison and other former employees who have testified in the trial, Bankman-Fried financed Alameda’s operations by borrowing money from FTX and its sister company, Blockfolio, without disclosing this to the customers or regulators. He also gave loans to FTX executives and affiliated entities, creating a web of conflicts of interest and potential liabilities.
The scheme unraveled in November 2022, when FTX collapsed into bankruptcy after failing to cope with massive withdrawal requests from customers who panicked after learning about some of FTX’s funds being committed to Alameda. The bankruptcy revealed that FTX had lost around $14 billion of customer funds, which had been siphoned off by Alameda and other entities linked to Bankman-Fried. The US authorities arrested Bankman-Fried in the Bahamas, where he had been living with Ellison and other FTX associates in a luxury apartment complex. He was extradited to the US and charged with seven counts of fraud, embezzlement, and conspiracy.
The Implications for the Crypto Industry
The trial of Bankman-Fried has been one of the most high-profile and controversial cases in the history of the crypto industry. It has exposed the dark side of the unregulated and opaque world of crypto trading, where some operators have exploited the trust and ignorance of their customers to enrich themselves at their expense. It has also raised questions about the ethics and accountability of some of the most prominent figures in the crypto space, who have often portrayed themselves as visionaries and innovators.
The outcome of the trial could have significant implications for the future of the crypto industry, especially as regulators around the world are increasing their scrutiny and oversight of crypto activities. Some experts have argued that the case could serve as a wake-up call for the industry to adopt more transparency and compliance standards, while others have warned that it could lead to more restrictions and crackdowns on crypto innovation. The trial could also affect the public perception and adoption of cryptocurrencies, which have been gaining popularity and legitimacy in recent years.