Jury directions begin in Sam Bankman-Fried criminal trial

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Closing arguments for the criminal trial of Sam “SBF” Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of crypto exchange FTX, have officially concluded, with U.S. Southern District of New York Judge Lewis Kaplan moving to jury instructions.

Bankman-Fried faces seven charges, including two counts of wire fraud conspiracy, two counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit commodities fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

In his briefing to the jury, Judge Kaplan explained that counts one and three — charges for a scheme to defraud FTX customers using interstate wires and charges for a scheme to defraud lenders to Alameda Research using interstate wires — are substantive, or alleged crimes that are not dependent of another. 

“The government need not prove that the victim actually was harmed, only that the defendant [Sam Bankman-Fried] contemplated some harm,” said Judge Kaplan. “The defendant need not have participated in the scheme from the beginning.”

Seemingly to address SBF’s previous defense of relying on the advice of FTX counsel Daniel Friedberg, Judge Kaplan told jurors that “a lawyer’s involvement does not in itself constitute a defense.” Instead, “Intent may be inferred from circumstantial evidence.”

Furthermore, Judge Kaplan stated that for conspiracy charges in counts two and four, “it is sufficient if two or more people came to a common understanding to violate the law.” However, he warned that “mere presence at the scene of a crime, or being friendly with a criminal, is not a crime.”

During the ongoing criminal trial, key FTX executives — including former Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison, former FTX chief technology officer Gary Wang and former FTX head of engineering Nishad Singh — have all pled guilty to charges relating to the exchange’s collapse last November and are currently cooperating with the U.S. government in their testimonies against SBF. If convicted, Bankman-Fried faces a maximum penalty of 110 years in prison. The jury will begin deliberations shortly after lunch. 

Related: Sam Bankman-Fried trial [Day 16] — latest update