Sam Bankman-Fried’s parents are begging a judge to keep him out of prison, warning their son’s social awkwardness could put him in ‘extreme danger’

Estimated read time 9 min read

  • Sam Bankman-Fried’s family begged for leniency ahead of his upcoming sentencing.

  • His lawyers suggest a 6.5-year sentence, calling the probation office’s 100-year recommendation “barbaric.”

  • His parents warned prison could lead to violence given his poor ability to comprehend social cues.

Sam Bankman-Fried’s family members begged the judge who oversaw his criminal trial to give him a light sentence, arguing that his social awkwardness could put him in “extreme danger” behind bars.

“I genuinely fear for Sam’s life in the typical prison environment,” Barbara Fried, his mother, wrote in a letter to the judge. “Sam’s outward presentation, his inability to read or respond appropriately to many social cues, and his touching but naive belief in the power of facts and reason to resolve disputes, put him in extreme danger.”

Letters from Barbara Fried; Sam Bankman-Fried’s father, Joseph Bankman; and his brother, Gabriel Bankman-Fried, were part of a package of documents filed to court just before a midnight deadline on Tuesday.

Bankman-Fried’s lawyers filed a sentencing submission, asking for a prison sentence of no longer than 78 months — or six-and-a-half-years.

The filing was supported by 29 letters from Bankman-Fried’s supporters, two intensely personal documents where Bankman-Fried grapples with romance and social alienation, and documents reflecting his work at FTX — the collapsed cryptocurrency exchange he once led.

Joseph Bankman, in his letter, warned that his son’s “odd” social cues — which his lawyers said should be attributed to neurodiversity — could be misread by people in prison as “disrespect, evasion, or lying.”

“Such a setting would put Sam in an environment where his responses to social cues will sometimes be seen as odd, inappropriate, and disrespectful; when that happens, he will be in significant physical danger,” Bankman wrote. “Nothing can justify putting him at that risk.

In November, a jury found Bankman-Fried guilty of seven counts of fraud and conspiracy at a Manhattan criminal trial overseen by US District Judge Lewis Kaplan.

Prosecutors established that he commingled customer funds at FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange, with Alameda Research, his crypto trading firm. Bankman-Fried and several other executives — who pleaded guilty and testified against him — misappropriated billions of dollars of customer money and misled customers, investors, and lenders.

The verdict carries a maximum sentence of 110 years in prison. The US Probation Office, which issues sentencing reports that judges typically rely on, recommended 100 years behind bars — which Bankman-Fried’s lawyers called “barbaric.”

“Only thirty-two years old and with his whole future in front of him, Sam now faces the prospect of spending much of the rest of his life in prison,” Barbara Fried wrote in her letter. “His father and I face the very real possibility that we will not live long enough to see him freed. There are no words for the grief we feel.”

Bankman-Fried’s lawyers said a significantly lower sentence was warranted because FTX’s customers would likely regain much of their funds in the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.

“That recommendation is grotesque,” Bankman-Fried’s lawyers wrote. “Sam is a 31-year-old, first-time, non-violent offender, who was joined in the conduct at issue by at least four other culpable individuals, in a matter where victims are poised to recover — were always poised to recover — a hundred cents on the dollar.”

Prosecutors will have a chance to submit their own recommendation by March 15 before the sentencing hearing for the 31-year-old former FTX executive on March 28.

‘He has never felt happiness or pleasure in his Iife’

In a searingly emotional letter, Barbara Fried said her elder son has been wrongly cast as “a cartoonish villain driven by greed” who perpetrated “the fraud of the century.”

In reality, she argued, Bankman-Fried devoted his life to altruism, dropped everything to help friends going through family tragedies, and “has battled depression his entire life.”

After the collapse of FTX in November 2022, Bankman-Fried shared with his parents his experience of anhedonia, she wrote.

“We knew about his depression, but he described something deeper and sadder: that he has never felt happiness or pleasure in his life and does not think he is capable of feeling it,” Barbara Fried wrote.

Bankman-Fried’s lawyers shared personal writings where he reflects on being “unlovable” and quotes Macklemore’s rap lyrics.

“I don’t feel pleasure. I don’t feel happiness. Somehow my reward system never clicked,” Bankman-Fried wrote in 2016. “My highest hights, my proudest moments, come and pass and I feel nothing but the aching hole in my brain where happiness should be.”

sam bankman fried court illustration jail mother barbara

FTX cryptocurrency exchange founder Sam Bankman-Fried, wearing prison clothing, speaks to his mother, Stanford Law School professor Barbara Fried, across the low partition between the courtroom well and the galley after a hearing.REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

In another piece of writing, heavily redacted and appearing to be a letter to a former lover, Bankman-Fried apologizes for his behavior and worries about hurting her.

“I hate the pain I’ve caused you,” wrote in the document, dated to 2018. “And I hate myself for causing it. I really wish I could have known how to love you better. I’m sorry.”

“I really wish we could have frozen time when things were happy,” he added.

Barbara Fried said in her letter that her son’s behavior and tics during the trial — where he took the witness stand in his own defense — were associated with “high-functioning people” with autism.

“He is bad at responding to social cues in ‘normal’ ways, uncomfortable looking people in the eye, uncomfortable with outward shows of emotion,” Fried wrote. “He has no interest in small talk but will engage passionately and relentlessly with ideas to the point that can exasperate and exhaust others.”

Sam Bankman-Fried

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried.Michael M Santiago/Getty Images

While those character traits may have let him thrive at MIT, Wall Street, and FTX, they made him look like “a freak with evil intentions” in the eyes of the public, she wrote.

It would be even worse in prison, she wrote.

“It may be that some of the inmates will come to appreciate Sam once they get to know him,” Barbara Fried wrote. “But miscommunication in that environment is dangerous, and Sam’s traits greatly elevate the likelihood of its occurring.”

Putting him in solitary confinement to protect him from others is no solution, she continued. “It just a more certain form of murder, and in many ways, a crueler one, slowly destroying his soul rather than his body.”

Carmine Simpson, a former police officer held in the same federal Brooklyn jail on child pornography charges, wrote a letter to the judge praising Bankman-Fried’s character. He said Bankman-Fried has already been the subject of “hazing” and “multiple extortion attempts” because of his stature.

“In any setting, Sam is the least physically intimidating person and this is especially noticeable inside a jail,” Simpson wrote. “This has and will lead to him being frequently targeted for hazing, harassment, and assault more so than the average inmate.

In the sentencing submission, Bankman-Fried’s lawyers said Bankman-Fried “has practiced facial expressions” and made other efforts to overcome his neurological challenges. But it would be difficult, they said, for him to master them in prison.

“Prison often requires inmates to follow the ‘unwritten rules,’ as defined by other inmates — rules that are often highly reliant on social and emotional communication of deference and power and often at conflict with the written rules,” they wrote. “The social dynamics in prison and the scrutiny he is receiving is likely to result in him facing physical violence.”

They also included a US Bureau of Prisons official’s recommendation that Bankman-Fried be placed in a low-security prison. That’s even if he’s given a long prison sentence, which normally results in placement in high-security prisons.

Barbara Fried, in her letter, talked about teaching in the San Quentin prison and how the United States’s criminal justice system is “an extreme outlier among all democracies” with its punitive nature.

“I have no illusions about the redemptive power of prisons,” she wrote. “Being consigned to prison for decades will destroy Sam as surely as would hanging him, because it will take away everything in the world that gives his life meaning.”

Bankman-Fried’s lawyers say no one really lost money

Joseph Bankman focused on what he described as his son’s selflessness. Bankman-Fried had devoted his life to philanthropy through the effective altruism movement, making billions of dollars with the plan to give it away, he wrote.

When FTX collapsed, Bankman-Fried stayed in the Bahamas to work with officials and try to get everyone their money back as fast as possible, he said. When a defense lawyer noted that “there is probably a room of bright, hard-working and ambitious people somewhere whose goal is put you in jail,” Bankman-Fried said it was “pretty much irrelevant to me compared to helping depositors,” his father recounted.

Sam Bankman-Fried’s approach to veganism illustrated both his selflessness and awkwardness, his younger brother, Gabriel Bankman-Fried, wrote in a letter to the judge.

“He wouldn’t make small talk about your dog, but he’d subsist on bread and water in prison to avoid eating an animal,” Gabriel wrote.

“He was never good at apologizing, but always quick to admit fault,” he continued. “He would be uncomfortable giving me a hug, but I know he would give me a kidney if I needed one.

Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried

Sam-Bankman Fried’s parents, Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried.Seth Wenig, AP

Bankman-Fried recently shook up his legal team, ditching his trial lawyers and bringing on attorneys Marc Mukasey and Torrey Young for his sentencing and appeal.

The sentencing submission offers a preview of the arguments Bankman-Fried will likely make when he files an appeal.

Lawyers at bankruptcy proceedings have said that FTX may be able to make all of its customers whole, partly because of fluctuations in the company’s cryptocurrency holdings and Bankman-Fried’s prescient investments in the artificial intelligence company Anthropic. But his lawyers weren’t allowed to raise the issue at trial, with the judge deeming it irrelevant. In the sentencing submission, Bankman-Fried’s lawyers argue that “the most reasonable estimate” for how much his victims lost was “zero.”

Barbara Fried — herself a renowned legal ethics expert — said that John J. Ray III, the lawyer who took over FTX after it collapsed, inappropriately ignored Bankman-Fried’s efforts to help direct him to customer funds during the bankruptcy process, significantly slowing down the recovery process.

“When John Ray lamented publicly that the internal records of FTX were so bad they could not put together a list of customers, Sam located the relevant documents immediately and wrote to the Ch 11 team offering to show them how to access the preexisting list,” she wrote. “They never answered his emails.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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