FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is on trial for fraud.
Chelsea Jia Feng/Insider
Feelings about cryptocurrency may be shaping the jury in Sam Bankman-Fried’s criminal trial.He’s charged with fraud following the collapse of crypto exchange FTX.One prospective juror said he couldn’t be objective given “everything negative” he’s heard of crypto.
Cryptocurrency itself isn’t on trial, but strong feelings about the virtual currency may be shaping Sam Bankman-Fried’s criminal trial.
During an otherwise plodding day of jury selection on Tuesday in Manhattan federal court, two prospective jurors shared some of their feelings about cryptocurrency.
One potential juror said he believed he harbored a bias in the case because of “everything negative” he’s heard about the tokens.
“I’m not sure I could be totally unbiased about crypto given the history and everything negative I’ve heard about it,” he told US District Judge Lewis Kaplan on Tuesday afternoon.
Strong feelings about cryptocurrency, Kaplan explained, weren’t relevant in the case. Prosecutors allege that former billionaire Bankman-Fried defrauded customers and investors of FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange he ran. He did this by commingling funds with Alameda Research, a cryptocurrency hedge fund he also controlled, they say.
Jurors, Kaplan said, would be tasked with determining whether Bankman-Fried’s actions fell into the legal parameters of fraud.
After the man said he believed he would be biased — and explained that he had just started a new job and is supposed to be the best man at an upcoming wedding — Kaplan dismissed him from the case.
Lawyers and Kaplan must choose 12 jurors and six alternates for the trial, which is scheduled to last six weeks. He told prospective jurors earlier in the day that he expected to conclude the selection process by Wednesday morning, before opening statements.
Familiarity with cryptocurrency, the dramatic collapse of FTX, or Bankman-Fried’s case specifically isn’t necessarily disqualifying to be a juror. Several prospective ones had said they’d learned about the case through news publications and podcasts. None, as of early Tuesday afternoon, said they were a customer or lender with FTX or Alameda Research.
Another prospective juror said she worked at the private equity firm Insight Partners, which she said lost money from investing in FTX and Alameda Research.
But she didn’t have any personal dealings with the company and could be impartial in the case by deciding “on the basis of the facts,” she said. Kaplan didn’t immediately dismiss her from the jury pool.
Other jurors raised different concerns. One prospective juror said she would have a problem rendering a guilty verdict if Bankman-Fried faced the death penalty.
The trial is not, Kaplan assured her, a death penalty case. She appeared comforted to learn that.
Kaplan did not mention that Bankman-Fried faces a potential — if unlikely — sentence of over 100 years.