During testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on December 13, John Ray III, the newly appointed CEO of bankrupt crypto exchange FTX, told members of Congress that FTX U.S. had 2.7 million user accounts while FTX International had 7.6 million user accounts. That’s a total of 10.3 million potential customers of FTX that may have been bilked out of some or all of their funds by the alleged mastermind, Sam Bankman-Fried, and his co-conspirators. That’s more than 250 times the defrauded customers of Ponzi mastermind Bernie Madoff.
While Ray acknowledged that some FTX users had multiple accounts, even if you cut the 10.3 million user accounts by as much as two-thirds, 3.4 million accounts is still 85 times the number of Madoff victims.
If you throw into the mix that Madoff acquired his victims over more than four decadesand Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX has been in operation for less than four years, the scope of the number of people impacted is stunning. The quantity of people lured into the FTX scheme was no doubt aided and abetted by the paid celebrity endorsers of FTX and its star-studded TV commercials.
And if one considers the customer losses at other crypto companies that have filed bankruptcy, potentially as a result of their exposure to FTX, the total dollar amount of losses may come close to or even exceed the estimated $17.8 billion of lost principal in the Madoff fraud. Currently, Ray is acknowledging $8 billion of missing customer funds at FTX, while indicating that records are in disarray and funds are still being tracked.
The depth of Bankman-Fried’s deceptions is also coming into sharper focus.This week Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced on Twitter that two of Bankman-Fried’s closest associates had pleaded guilty and were cooperating with prosecutors.
Caroline Ellison, the former CEO of Bankman-Fried’s hedge fund, Alameda Research, pleaded guilty to a 7-count criminal indictment, including two counts of wire fraud, two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit commodities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Gary Wang, the coding wizard and former Chief Technology Officer of FTX Trading Ltd., pleaded guilty to four criminal counts: conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit commodities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud.
Last evening, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) unveiled their own civil charges against Ellison and Wang.
Gary Gensler, the Chair of the SEC, said the following in a released statement:
“As part of their deception, we allege that Caroline Ellison and Sam Bankman-Fried schemed to manipulate the price of FTT, an exchange crypto security token that was integral to FTX, to prop up the value of their house of cards. We further allege that Ms. Ellison and Mr. Wang played an active role in a scheme to misuse FTX customer assets to prop up Alameda and to post collateral for margin trading. When FTT and the rest of the house of cards collapsed, Mr. Bankman-Fried, Ms. Ellison, and Mr. Wang left investors holding the bag. Until crypto platforms comply with time-tested securities laws, risks to investors will persist. It remains a priority of the SEC to use all of our available tools to bring the industry into compliance.”
The CFTC’s statement indicated the following charges against Ellison and Wang:
“As alleged in the amended complaint, Wang created features in the code underlying the FTX trading platform that allowed Alameda to maintain an essentially unlimited line of credit on FTX. As further alleged, at Bankman-Fried’s direction, FTX executives including Wang created other exceptions to FTX’s standard processes that allowed Alameda to have an unfair advantage when transacting on the platform, including quicker execution times and an exemption from the platform’s distinctive auto-liquidation risk management process. These critical code features and structural exceptions allowed Alameda to secretly and recklessly siphon FTX customer assets from the FTX platform.
“The amended complaint further charges that, beginning in October 2021, Ellison was co-Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Alameda, and later sole CEO and, along with Bankman-Fried and others, Ellison directed Alameda to use billions of dollars of FTX funds, including FTX customer funds, to trade on other digital asset exchanges and to fund a variety of high-risk digital asset industry investments. As further alleged, Ellison made deceptive public statements in her capacity as Alameda’s CEO, including statements about the supposed separation between the operations of Alameda and FTX, in order to facilitate and perpetuate the fraudulent scheme.”
Bankman-Fried was extradited to the U.S. from the Bahamas last evening. His eight-count criminal indictment has the potential for 115 years in prison.
This first appeared on Wall Street on Parade.