Bankman-Fried, accompanied by two lawyers, appeared in federal court on Wednesday after the Justice Department said he shared documents with the New York Times to discredit former Alameda Research CEO Carolyn Allison, with whom he had a previous relationship.
Danielle Sassoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney General, began the hearing by stating that the DOJ’s department is requesting the arrest of Bankman-Fried.
“The government believes that no conditions of release can ensure the safety of the community,” she said. “There seems to be no dispute that the defendant provided the documents cited [in the New York Times] … with the intent to discredit [Allison].”
The court also believes that Bankman-Fried sent more than 100 emails to journalists and had more than 100 phone calls with one of the Times staffers (who was the author of the article in question). The prosecutors are also concerned about more than 500 phone calls with author Michael Lewis, who plans to publish a book about FTX shortly before the trial begins.
While Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York declined to immediately jail Bankman-Fried, he did note the fast-track schedule for filing formal written documents from both the prosecution and defense in the case. The Ministry of Justice has until Friday to submit its documents. The defense may respond by Tuesday, and the DOJ may submit its final response by August 3.
The judge expressed doubts about the arguments of lawyer Mark Cohen during the hearing.
Cohen, who claimed that Bankman-Fried was not trying to discredit Allison, asserted that he himself did not try to contact journalists, but had a strategy of engaging with them to influence the media narrative about himself. There are over a million negative articles about Bankman-Fried,” Cohen said.
“We’re dealing with a defendant who believes, based on many, many negative stories … based on literally thousands of stories about his relationship with Ms. Ellison … that he was entitled to a fair comment,” Cohen said, adding that this may not be “the best strategy.”
Cohen also argued that keeping Bankman-Fried in jail would make it harder to defend him, citing the volume of documents that can be accessed through online tools.
Sassoon said that a detection schedule based on the use of these digital tools is not a “get out of jail free card.”
Today’s hearing was not the first time the judge has expressed concern about Bankman-Fried’s behavior on the loose. During a previous hearing in February, he said he had “objective grounds” to believe that Bankman-Fried’s previous communications with former FTX.US general counsel Ryan Miller could be a means of influencing testimony.
Judge Kaplan said on Wednesday that he “still believes” that the communication with Miller was aimed at influencing the testimony.
“And now you will learn about the extraordinary number of contacts between the accused, journalists and the author of this report. Taking into account these new facts, there are grounds to believe [that there is a sufficient reason to revoke bail],” he said.
The judge concluded the hearing by warning Bankman-Fried to take these issues seriously, signing a temporary ban on speaking to the press or making other public statements at least until Kaplan can review written submissions on whether the FTX founder’s bail should be completely revoked.
The Bankman-Fried trial is currently scheduled to take place in October with various charges, including securities violations and deception, and a second trial with additional charges, including fraud and bribery, is scheduled for next March.