U.S. seeks tighter bail for FTX founder Bankman-Fried to prevent tampering
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By Jonathan Stamp
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Friday asked a Manhattan judge to impose tougher bail conditions on Sam Bankman-Fried, raising concerns that the founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX could tamper with witnesses or destroy evidence in his criminal case .
Citing Bankman-Fried’s “recent attempts to contact potential witnesses,” prosecutors asked US District Judge Lewis Kaplan to bar Bankman-Fried from communicating with current or former employees of FTX or his Alameda Research hedge fund other than family , unless an attorney is present.
They also urged Bankman-Fried not to use Signal or other encrypted calling and messaging apps, although he can still communicate via text messages, email, and the phone.
Bankman-Fried, 30, is out on $250 million bail and has been living with his parents since pleading not guilty to looting billions of dollars from now-bankrupt FTX.
Bankman-Fried’s attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In Friday’s letter, prosecutors cited a Jan. 15 signal message from Bankman-Fried to Witness-1, the general counsel of US subsidiary FTX. Bankman-Fried expressed interest in a “constructive relationship” or “at least checking things out.”
Prosecutors said this was “particularly concerning” because Bankman-Fried knew the General Counsel had potentially damaging information after participating in communications alleging Bankman-Fried’s use of Alameda funds to satisfy FTX customer withdrawals.
“The Defendant’s request to check things out with each other indicates an effort to influence Witness-1’s potential testimony, and the request for a ‘constructive relationship’ also implies that Witness-1 should come to terms with the Defendant ‘ the prosecutors said.
“Even if the defendant did not directly attempt to manipulate witnesses, (his) contact with witnesses may intimidate them,” prosecutors said, not to come forward or testify.
To keep Bankman-Fried off Signal, prosecutors said he ordered in 2021 that many Signal and Slack communications be automatically deleted within 30 days.
Prosecutors said former Alameda chief Caroline Ellison, who pleaded guilty to the case and is working with them, told them Bankman-Fried had suggested it could be harder to build legal cases if information wasn’t preserved.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)