Sam Bankman-Fried prosecutors want to make sure jurors know effective altruism is no defense for fraud

The criminal trial for disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried wrapped up its third week on Thursday, with prosecutors signaling that they will close their case next week. Bankman-Fried’s defense attorneys only expect to take a week to present their witnesses, meaning the time for jury deliberation is fast approaching.

On Thursday afternoon, prosecutors submitted a letter to the judge overseeing the case, Lewis Kaplan, laying out their proposed instructions to the 12 individuals who will decide whether Bankman-Fried committed fraud. Among their asks: Making sure the jury understands effective altruism is not an excuse.

The two sides have gone back and forth throughout the trial on matters from which witnesses should be allowed to testify to what types of arguments the defense attorneys should be able to employ, but the latest filing may prove the most consequential debate yet.

The trial so far has seen a parade of witnesses, including three members of Bankman-Fried’s inner circle who testified that the exchange illegally took customer funds and used them for its own purpose, including luxury real estate, venture investments, and political donations.

In its letter, prosecutors said that the defense has attempted to argue that the misappropriation of funds was not criminal because he would eventually repay them through different means, whether growing FTX’s business or making successful investments. They argued that the jury should be told that such an argument does not preclude any fraud committed by Bankman-Fried.

Another theme throughout the trial has been Bankman-Fried’s allegiance to effective altruism, a philanthropic movement that seeks to maximize individuals’ utility through actions such as donations or career trajectories. Bankman-Fried surrounded himself with other adherents to the ethos, including engineering chief Nishad Singh and Caroline Ellison, his one-time girlfriend and the CEO of his trading firm, Alameda Research.

In a separate stipulation in the filing, prosecutors wrote that Bankman-Fried has sought to argue his decisions were “motivated by a desire to do good in the world,” driven by his support of effective altruism.

“Any such arguments are not a defense to fraud,” they wrote, describing effective altruism as an “idiosyncratic philosophy about the morality of lying and stealing.” They said it was irrelevant to the mens rea, or intention of wrongdoing, for wire fraud.

The trial is on recess as Kaplan attends a conference, with prosecutors expected to finish calling witnesses next Thursday.

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