Caroline Ellison alleges auto-deletion of messages, bribery of foreign officials, and more in second day of testimony
Ex-Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison took the stand in a second day of testimony in Sam Bankman-Fried criminal trial on Oct. 11.
Ellison testified that she communicated with Bankman-Fried and other company members through Signal, a messaging app with an auto-delete feature that Bankman-Fried instructed employees to use. She further testified that Bankman-Fried instructed her and others not to leave anything in writing.
Prosecutors raised a piece of evidence reading: “Sam Bankman-Fried set the disappearing message time for [one] week,” which Ellison read aloud.
When Bankman-Fried was on bail prior to trial, his use of Signal was restricted because of its capabilities. Court proceedings at that time suggested that Bankman-Fried was aware that the app’s auto-deletion features could make legal cases more difficult.
Testimony implies bribery
Ellison also said that she and Bankman-Fried spoke in coded terms when their companies provided a bribe to Chinese government officials in an effort to unlock funds that the country had frozen following a money laundering investigation.
Ellison implied that she lacked full awareness of the situation. She said that Bankman-Fried had merely told her that an FTX executive, David Ma, had found a way to unfreeze the accounts by sending $100 million in crypto to certain addresses.
She added that Alameda co-CEO Sam Trabucco directed her to make the transaction over Signal, but said that she was not told who owned the receiving addresses.
Judge Lewis Kaplan, however, agreed to strike parts of this the testimony in a sidebar, noting that Bankman-Fried is not currently charged with bribery. Bankman-Fried may face such charges at a later date, but his Bahamas extradition treaty prevents prosecutors from pursuing bribery charges at present.
Ellison went on to discuss Bankman-Fried’s investments. She said that, at one point in the fall of 2022, Bankman-Fried had yelled at her in his apartment and blamed the company’s financial shortfall on her. Ellison said that she had cried even though “it was [Bankman-Fried] who made all these investments that put [them] in this situation.”
She went on to describe Bankman-Fried’s attempts to grow the FTX empire, as detailed her own list titled “Things Sam Is Freaking Out About.” She said that Bankman-Fried wanted to raise money from the Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman and wanted to get regulators to act against the competing crypto exchange Binance.
She added that Bankman-Fried wanted to buy Snapchat, invest in news sites (including Semafor, Vox, Forbes, and The Block), and trade Japanese government bonds.
Ellison pleads guilty, still awaits sentence
Ellison concluded her testimony by describing a plea deal that she reached in late 2022. She said: “I believe I am guilty … I made false statements on Twitter, with investors as the audience.” She said that the plea deal demands that she tell the truth.
Ellison has not been sentenced. Another FTX associate, Gary Wang, described a similar pending sentence in his own testimony this week, revealing in court that he faces up to 50 years in prison.