Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of the now-bankrupt crypto exchange FTX, has usually kept quiet as a victim, a former investor, and two of his best friends took to the witness stand to testify against him.
But Caroline Ellison—the former CEO of crypto hedge fund Alameda Research, the prosecution’s star witness, and Bankman-Fried’s on-again off-again girlfriend—allegedly provoked the most emotional reaction from the one-time golden boy of crypto on Wednesday afternoon.
In a sidebar not audible to the jury or the audience in the courtroom, prosecutor Danielle Sassoon complained to Judge Lewis Kaplan, who’s presiding over the trial, that Bankman-Fried has “laughed, visibly shaken his head, and scoffed” during Ellison’s testimony after the lunch break on Wednesday. The former FTX CEO’s reactions are not readily visible to members of the media, who occupy three benches in the back of the courtroom.
“I’m not communicating with the witness, but it’s possible it’s having a visible effect on her, especially given the history of this relationship, the prior attempts to intimidate her, the power dynamic, their romantic relationship,” Sassoon said, according to a transcript of the conversation, “and I would ask that defense counsel tell him to control his visible reactions to her testimony.”
Mark Cohen, one of Bankman-Fried’s lawyers, took affront to Sassoon’s characterization of the FTX founder. “Your honor, this is ridiculous,” he said. “The defendant is attending this trial. If he’s having any reaction at all, that’s for your honor and the jury to decide.”
He later added that the notion that Bankman-Fried was trying to intimidate Ellison, who awkwardly bobbed back and forth in the beginning of her testimony as she tried to locate her former boyfriend and boss, was “ridiculous.”
The back-and-forth over Bankman-Fried’s alleged emotional reactions to his prior close confidant came amid one of the most explosive days of testimony in one of the most highly-covered white-collar criminal cases in recent memory.
Bankman-Fried, once hailed as a quantitative savant and one of the world’s youngest billionaires, isn’t known for outright displays of emotion. “Smiling was the biggest thing that I most weirdly couldn’t do,” he once said to Michael Lewis, author of a recently released book about the former crypto mogul.
In court on Wednesday, Bankman-Fried seemed to have pushed past his usual temperament, according to Sassoon. But Kaplan, the judge, hadn’t noticed Bankman-Fried’s alleged reactions. “I accept that you’re offended,” he said to Cohen, “and I accept that Ms. Sassoon has seen what she says she’s seen, or at least thinks so.”
Kaplan later added: “If he’s doing anything, it should stop; and if he’s not, then no harm, no foul.”