Over three days of testimony in Sam Bankman-Fried’s criminal trial, Caroline Ellison provided revealing glimpses from the years in which she was SBF’s on-and-off girlfriend and one of his top executives.
Ellison’s testimony described Bankman-Fried’s belief that he could become US president, and his belief that his hair “was an important part of FTX’s narrative and image.” She offered details on a failed attempt to use prostitutes’ identities to unlock funds frozen by the Chinese government, and on Bankman-Fried’s habit of describing hypothetical coin flips in which everything—even the fate of the whole world—would be put at risk.
She also described how Bankman-Fried had a “utilitarian” philosophy in which rules like “don’t lie” and “don’t steal” did not fit into his moral framework.
Testifying at a federal court in New York, Ellison reportedly said Bankman-Fried was “very ambitious” and that he “thought there was a 5 percent chance he would become president some day.” And by “president,” he did mean president of the United States, according to a courtroom exchange reported by the Associated Press:
“When you say president, what are you referring to?” asked Assistant US Attorney Danielle Sassoon.
“Of the United States,” Ellison answered.
SBF’s money-making hair
Bankman-Fried believed that his unkempt head of hair was valuable to him and FTX financially, Ellison testified. “He said he thought his hair had been very valuable,” she said, according to The Guardian. “He said ever since Jane Street [a hedge fund they both worked at], he thought he had gotten higher bonuses because of his hair and that it was an important part of FTX’s narrative and image.”
Ellison said that Bankman-Fried tried to cultivate an image as a “smart, competent, somewhat eccentric founder,” according to Reuters. For a time he drove a company-owned luxury car in the Bahamas but switched to a Toyota Corolla. “He said he thought it was better for his image,” Ellison said.
“I would say he looked like he didn’t put a lot of effort into his personal appearance. He dressed sort of sloppily and didn’t cut his hair often,” she also said. Bankman-Fried did get a haircut before the trial began.
Bankman-Fried is facing six charges for defrauding FTX’s and Alameda’s customers and investors, and one charge for conspiracy to commit money laundering. The seven charges’ maximum sentences add up to 110 years. He faces five additional criminal charges in a separate trial scheduled for April 2024.
Ellison was CEO of Alameda Research, a crypto hedge fund and affiliate of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, but she testified that all major decisions were ultimately made by Bankman-Fried. Ellison admitted to committing fraud and said that Bankman-Fried “directed me to commit these crimes.”
FTX went bankrupt in November 2022. An indictment alleges that Bankman-Fried “misappropriated and embezzled FTX customer deposits and used billions of dollars in stolen funds… to enrich himself; to support the operations of FTX; to fund speculative venture investments; to help fund over a hundred million dollars in campaign contributions to Democrats and Republicans to seek to influence cryptocurrency regulation; and to pay for Alameda’s operating costs.” He was also accused of making “false and fraudulent statements and representations to FTX’s investors and Alameda’s lenders.”