Updated Oct 10, 2023 - Economy

The trial of Sam Bankman-Fried: Key players

Photo collage of a gavel and a dollar bill.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

With the trial of FTX's former founder Sam Bankman-Fried underway, all eyes are on the witness list.

The big picture: Bankman-Fried's trial will determine whether one of the greatest financial boondoggles in history was, indeed, fraud.

Here are some of the key players in the saga:

  • Sam Bankman-Fried: He's the co-founder and former CEO of FTX and its sister trading firm, Alameda Research. Nicknamed SBF, the entrepreneur grew up in Palo Alto, California, with parents who are law professors at Stanford University. After graduating from MIT, he worked at Jane Street and went on to start Alameda and later FTX.
  • Caroline Ellison: A former CEO of Alameda, she was part of Bankman-Fried's inner circle. She's the daughter of two MIT professors and joined Alameda after working at Jane Street. She pleaded guilty in December and took the witness stand this week to testify in Bankman-Fried's trial.
  • Ryan Salame: He was the co-CEO of FTX's subsidiary in the Bahamas. Salame has admitted to making political donations to GOP candidates at the direction of Bankman-Fried, and he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make unlawful political contributions and conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitter.
  • Gary Wang: He was a co-founder and former CTO of Alameda and FTX. Wang met Bankman-Fried in high school, and the two were later roommates at MIT. He was part of Bankman-Fried's inner circle and cited by Ellison as one of the few people who allegedly knew about the misuse of customer funds. He worked at Google after college and then joined Bankman-Fried to start Alameda. Wang testified Tuesday that the financial balances for the ill-fated exchange were even worse than they seemed.
  • Nishad Singh: He was FTX's director of engineering and also worked at Alameda. He was a high school friend of Bankman-Fried's brother and had worked at Meta (then Facebook). He was allegedly among the insiders who knew about the misuse of funds, according to Ellison.
  • Barbara Fried and Joseph Bankman: Bankman-Fried's law professor parents were enlisted to help FTX recruit its early lawyers, and both had advisory roles at the company. Fried co-founded Mind the Gap, a Democratic super PAC. They have supported their son since the collapse of FTX, initially putting up their home as bail collateral. Bankman-Fried stayed there under house arrest until his bail was revoked. The couple is also being sued by FTX, which seeks to recover funds they received.

The government: Federal prosecutors plan to use heaps of documents, text messages and even meeting recordings to show that Bankman-Fried orchestrated the misuse of customer funds and illegal political donations.

  • The prosecution so far has largely focused on the special relationship between the crypto exchange, FTX and Alameda.
  • They plan to call former FTX and Alameda executives and employees to testify.
  • Last week, prosecutors spent some five hours questioning Wang about special privileges the exchange extended to its sister hedge fund Alameda Research.

The defense: How Bankman-Fried will defend himself in court is less clear at the moment. In August, his legal team indicated he planned to raise the advice-of-counsel defense — that is, that he was following the advice of his lawyers and thus isn't at fault.

  • Bankman-Fried's lawyers are trying to paint the privileges Alameda enjoyed as less special, and more a function of its role as a market maker on FTX, Axios' Crystal Kim reports.

Go deeper: What to expect from SBF's trial — and after

Go deeper