Hitting the Books: The abrupt and ignoble downfall of Sam Bankman-Fried

Seemingly in a single day, Sam Bankman-Fried, the founding father of FTX, went from cryptocurrency wunderkind to needed for questioning by the FBI. After years of unfettered success, the partitions of SBF’s blockchain empire got here crumbling down round him as his tricky financial feats failed and his generalized lack of accounting introduced growing scrutiny by regulators. In SBF: How the FTX Bankruptcy Unwound Crypto’s Very Bad Good Guy, veteran crypto reporter Brady Dale gives a scintillating and clarifying narrative of your entire FTX/Alameda Ventures saga. Within the excerpt beneath, we glimpse in on the instant aftermath of FTX’s sudden insolvency.  


Excerpted with permission from the writer, Wiley, from SBF: How the FTX Bankruptcy Unwound Crypto’s Very Bad Good Guy by Brady Dale. Copyright © 2023 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. This ebook is on the market wherever books and eBooks are offered.

A Flood of Pure SBF

Once I wrote in Chapter 1, “I’m drowning in Sam,” I used to be right here, at this level within the story. I used to be then. I nonetheless am, however the tide goes out. I’m not again on land but, however I do know if I relaxation and I don’t combat it, the land will discover me. I don’t want to seek out the land. Not like SBF after CoinDesk’s Ian Allison launched his put up about Alameda’s stability sheet, I can see the shore from the place I’m.

In late November and early December SBF wouldn’t depart the general public eye. He was in magazines. He was within the New York Occasions. He was doing interviews on YouTube. He was on Twitter Areas.

YouTube gadfly Coffeezilla was chasing him.

NFT influencers had been chasing him. TV reporters had been chasing him.

A goofy token shill I can’t dignify by naming chased him.

Everybody thought if they might simply get yet another interview from him, it will make sense.

They had been all taking part in into Sam’s arms. Many who felt betrayed believed that his media tour was working to his profit, that he would possibly truly get away with dropping $8 billion (or was it $10 billion?) in buyer cash. They noticed giant media firms as complicit in serving to to burnish his picture.

However then he was arrested, and as I write this, he’s sitting within the sick-bay of an overcrowded jail within the island nation his firm had lately made his residence.

Trying again on it, there may be not loads of worth to say about all these many appearances. We had been all simply tea luggage soaking within the flavors of a collective stew we had boiled up collectively, a swirling potion of shifting disappointment, outrage, intrigue, schadenfreude, and mockery.

SBF appeared in lots of locations, however to my thoughts, these had been the important thing media appearances:

  • Axios interview on Nov. 29. Just a few items had been printed with totally different components of the interview. The place he first mentioned he was all the way down to $100,000.

  • The primary recording from Tiffany Fong’s cellphone name with SBF, launched on YouTube Nov. 29.

  • The New York Occasions Dealbook Summit, Nov. 30.

  • Good Morning America, Dec. 1.

  • New York Journal interview on its Intelligencer web site, Dec. 1.

  • The Scoop podcast, Dec. 5.

There have been others. Folks actually just like the grilling rip-off vigilante Coffeezilla gave him, too. Finally, although, listening to those issues was like watching a type of YouTube movies of skateboarding accidents: it was loads of the identical factor time and again.

He was sorry, there was an accounting artifact, he ought to have had higher threat administration, he shouldn’t have given up his firm, and so on., and so on., and so on.

Had been anybody to undergo the above accounts and extra from that month in a two-day marathon session like I did, I feel they’d ultimately discern a technique. What gave the impression to be a sequence of open conversations had develop into, to my ears, speaking factors.

I wrote the identical for Axios on the time, however I don’t truly assume the speaking factors are all that attention-grabbing anymore now that he’s been arrested. On the finish of December 2022, he could be again in his household residence, beneath home arrest, his passport taken, and sporting an ankle monitor. As soon as these handcuffs went on, the general public relations marketing campaign grew to become irrelevant as a result of it was one thing designed to arrange himself if his legal professionals succeeded in conserving him out of jail.

As I wrote to start with, as new details and circumstances come up, the set of potential explanations and futures shrink. Earlier than {the handcuffs}, it appeared nearly doubtless he would possibly get away with the corporate’s failure. As soon as he went to jail, it’s laborious to think about how we ever even noticed that chance.

As a result of they did not preserve him out of jail, the speaking factors matter little or no.

Besides one level, which I feel is price highlighting.The truth that Alameda was drawing buyer funds from FTX to cowl losses on investments hasn’t been verified by a courtroom but, nevertheless it has been alleged in a number of accounts by totally different authorities organizations who appear to have had a take a look at the books.

That money (in cryptocurrency kind) had moved from FTX to Alameda to fulfill margin calls, make loans, make investments, and even to make political donations. That is, in my estimation, significantly extra nefarious than the best way SBF described the outlet’s origins in his media tour.

In all of his appearances, he described Alameda as having an extreme margin place. For instance, in New York Magazine, he mentioned:

A consumer on FTX placed on a really giant margin place. FTX fucked up in permitting that place to be placed on and in underestimating, in actual fact, the scale of the place itself.That margin place blew out through the excessive occasions over the previous few weeks. I really feel actually unhealthy about that. And it was a big fuckup of threat evaluation and threat consideration and, you understand, it was with an account that was given an excessive amount of belief, and never sufficient skepticism.

In different phrases, FTX let Alameda’s bets on FTX get too large.We had been to think about Alameda was, I don’t know, 12X lengthy $500 million on bitcoin and 20X lengthy $200 million in ether or one thing.

All secured by the ftt token. And ftt went unhealthy, and now they had been out a bunch of cash.

When FTX first fell aside, I went into Slack and defined my understanding of the entire debacle to certainly one of my coworkers this fashion:

Step 1.

Launch a buying and selling desk. Make piles.

Step 2.

Determine you need to make extra piles, so open an trade that prints cash off retail trades and use that cash to lend to buying and selling desk.

Step 3.

Lend retail cash to buying and selling desk in hopes of quadrupling all beneficial properties.

Step 4.

Buying and selling desk loses borrowed cash.

Step 5.

[Surprised face emoji]

However SBF was making an attempt to spin it as if it had all stayed inside the home. It was simply large bets, however funds hadn’t left FTX.That is nonetheless unhealthy, however extra negligent, much less outright theft.

Jason Choi had been with Spartan Capital when FTX was elevating cash, and he’d declined to speculate as a result of he didn’t just like the Alameda/ FTX relationship. He defined all this on Twitter after the trade collapsed.We spoke earlier than complaints had been made in opposition to SBF, and I requested him whether or not he thought it mattered if Alameda had an outsized margin place or had taken buyer funds out of the trade.

“I feel functionally they’re the identical,” he mentioned. “It implies that Alameda is ready to run issues into significantly adverse positions.”

In different phrases, when it comes to what individuals have misplaced, every final result arrives on the similar place.

But it surely does matter when it comes to how you can perceive the selections made. If funds had been taken out and handed to Alameda to make use of elsewhere, individuals needed to green-light these strikes, figuring out that they had been in opposition to the phrases of service and in opposition to the various assurances that the corporate had made to the general public and their customers.

It’s not negligent. It’s willful. Legality apart, it simply feels totally different ethically.

Nonetheless, for what it’s price, when SBF and I final spoke he caught by this clarification: the outlet in FTX’s stability sheet was from a margin place Alameda took out. It had did not adequately hedge, and it had gotten a lot too lengthy on the incorrect collateral.

Earlier than he was arrested, that’s how he described the issue. That’s nonetheless how he describes it. He agreed, after we spoke, that it will be totally different if FTX had been sending precise buyer property to Alameda to make use of in different methods, however he says that wasn’t taking place.

The federal government is claiming that it did occur, and to take action it’s drawing consideration to loans made to SBF and different cofounders, loans they used to make enterprise investments, to purchase inventory in Robinhood, political donations, and to buy actual property.

This factors to part of the story that I didn’t actually perceive till the complaints began popping out.

When it’s mentioned that somebody is a “billionaire,” that doesn’t imply that they’ve billions of {dollars} in money. It doesn’t imply, essentially, that they will even spend that a lot cash.That doesn’t even imply that they can entry billions of {dollars} in money, and even many hundreds of thousands.

If somebody’s billionaire standing is tied up in a stake in a non-public firm, it may be very tough to show that worth into spendable cash. If their standing is tied up largely in thinly traded, extraordinarily new crypto tokens, it is likely to be even tougher.

Within the complaints by the SEC and the CFTC and the DoJ, they allege loans from the Samglomerate, utilizing buyer funds, to allow investments, property purchases, political donations, and extra. All of this stuff take precise money. SBF and his cadre had very excessive internet price, nevertheless it hadn’t occurred to me that they wouldn’t actually have entry to that a lot money till these complaints got here out.

After all SBF, Wang, Singh, and others might borrow cash someplace, and possibly extra refined readers than me presumed it was borrowed from banks. Or possibly it was borrowed from a few of the new crypto lenders (a lot of which fell into dire straits). However these numerous businesses allege one thing else: the funds had been borrowed from FTX prospects. And the purchasers didn’t know. Additional, that they had no upside. Solely draw back.

And the draw back is right here now.

“I assumed on the time and nonetheless do assume that, the scale of these loans was considerably lower than the revenue, than just like the liquid buying and selling revenue that Alameda had made,” he instructed me in December. In different phrases, he denies that the loans had been made utilizing FTX consumer funds.

The entire story of what occurred is complicated and dripping in finance jargon and includes a degree of arithmetic few of us have contemplated lately. It could be that SBF’s story right here has been a wager that he was good sufficient to solid a spell and persuade us all that every one the errors had been solely made contained in the on line casino.

And if he had carried out that effectively sufficient, the sting of the error would possibly fade, and if he evaded an arrest and conviction, he would possibly have the ability to rehabilitate himself within the public eye and apply his appreciable items, as soon as once more.

He would possibly nonetheless have gained, however then he was arrested.

So in that case, these appearances would possibly actually have simply been about having fun with that final second within the highlight. For some, it’s higher to be hated than ignored. But it surely’s additionally price noting that he hasn’t given up on this story.

As I wrote within the prologue: he doesn’t imagine the proof of crimes is there. He appears as desirous to reopen the books at FTX and Alameda. He desires everybody to get from 20 % of the story to 80 or 90 %. And possibly we’ll. And possibly the truth that he appears to need that as a lot as anybody will show to be an indication that he was proper.

However belief me, if you happen to haven’t seen the various media appearances of November and December 2022, you don’t must. This chapter offers greater than it’s essential find out about what he needed to say earlier than they put him in a Bahamas jail.

Sources Referenced

“Unique: Sam Bankman-Fried says he’s all the way down to $100,000,” Shen, Lucinda, Axios, Nov. 29, 2022.

“Sam Bankman-Fried Interviewed Dwell In regards to the Collapse of FTX,” New York Occasions Occasions,YouTube, Nov. 30, 2022.

“FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried denies ‘improper use’ of buyer funds,” Stephanopoulos, George, Good Morning America, Dec. 1, 2022.

“Sam Bankman-Fried’s First Interview After FTX Collapse,” Fong, Tiffany,

YouTube, posted Nov. 29, 2022

“What Does Sam Bankman-Fried Must Say for Himself? An interview with the disgraced CEO,”Wieczner, Jen, New York Journal, Dec. 1, 2022.

“2-hour sit-down with Sam Bankman-Fried on the FTX scandal,” Quinton, Davis, and Frank, Chaparro, The Scoop podcast,The Block, Dec. 5, 2022.

Jason Choi, interview, cell, Dec. 11, 2022.

“The SBF media blitz’s key messages,” Dale, Brady, Axios, Dec. 8, 2022.

Interview, Sam Bankman-Fried, cellphone name with spokesperson, Dec. 30, 2022.

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