Over and over on Tuesday, Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the failed FTX cryptocurrency exchange, denied knowing that billions of dollars in customer money had been misappropriated until shortly before his company collapsed last year, as a federal prosecutor grilled him for a second day in his criminal fraud trial.
The 31-year-old onetime crypto mogul fumbled for an answer when the prosecutor, Danielle Sassoon, repeatedly asked whether he had told his employees not to spend FTX customer money on investments, pricey real estate and other expenditures. Mr. Bankman-Fried also couldn’t name any employees who might have authorized the use of FTX customer money for that spending.
“I don’t recall giving any direction,” Mr. Bankman-Fried said three times about the spending of FTX customer money before he concluded his testimony. Both sides rested their case before lunchtime on Tuesday, with closing statements set to unfold on Wednesday.
Mr. Bankman-Fried was on the stand for a third day testifying in his own defense for a trial that has come to symbolize the highs and lows of the volatile crypto industry. The entrepreneur has been accused of masterminding a yearslong fraud to steal as much as $10 billion from FTX’s customers and then funneling the money to extravagant real-estate purchases and other spending, as well as using the funds to prop up a crypto trading firm he also founded, Alameda Research.
FTX, which was valued at $32 billion at its peak, imploded spectacularly last year, leaving many customers unable to recover their deposits. Mr. Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. If convicted, he could face what amounts to a life sentence.
The first few weeks of his trial were filled by a procession of prosecution witnesses who have pointed the finger squarely at Mr. Bankman-Fried and said he directed them to commit crimes. Three of his closest associates — Caroline Ellison, Nishad Singh and Gary Wang — have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
The pileup of damaging testimony may have forced the FTX founder’s hand in testifying, a risky move for a criminal defendant. Taking the stand gave Mr. Bankman-Fried an opportunity to say that he never intended to defraud anyone and that his business decisions were made in good faith. But it has also allowed prosecutors to zero in…