By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Sam Bankman-Fried has appealed a decision to jail him ahead of his Oct. 3 trial over the collapse of his FTX cryptocurrency exchange, arguing he was being punished for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan had on Aug. 11 revoked bail for the 31-year-old former billionaire after finding probable cause to believe he tampered with witnesses.
That came after he shared with a New York Times reporter personal writings belonging to his former colleague and romantic partner, Caroline Ellison, from before FTX’s November 2022 collapse.
Ellison is one of three former members of Bankman-Fried’s inner circle expected to testify against him after pleading guilty to fraud.
In a motion for Bankman-Fried to be released from jail filed late on Friday night with the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, his lawyers wrote that their client shared Ellison’s writings with the reporter to defend his reputation, not to intimidate her.
“It is unclear how a cooperating witness who has promised to testify against a defendant could be meaningfully threatened by nothing but their own statements being published by a reputable newspaper,” Bankman-Fried’s lawyers wrote.
Prosecutors have accused Bankman-Fried of stealing billions of dollars in customer funds to plug losses at Alameda Research, a crypto-focused hedge fund he also owned and where Ellison was chief executive.
He has pleaded not guilty.
His lawyers have said locking him up at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, long maligned by critics for its conditions, interfered with his constitutional right to prepare for trial.
At an Aug. 22 court hearing, Bankman-Fried’s lawyers objected to the jail’s failure to provide him with Adderall for his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or serve him vegan food, causing him to subsist on bread, water, and peanut butter.
His lawyers also said the jail was not allowing Bankman-Fried enough computer time to review evidence and prepare his defense.
In her writings, Ellison described feeling “unhappy and overwhelmed” with her job and “hurt/rejected” from her break-up with Bankman-Fried.
Prosecutors said Bankman-Fried shared Ellison’s writings to harass her, and to dissuade others from testifying if they thought he would make them look bad in the press.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Nick Zieminski)