On Tuesday, former chief of Alameda Research, Caroline Ellison, will take the stand in what may be the most anticipated testimony in Sam Bankman-Fried’s criminal trial so far.
Ellison is part of the former billionaire’s ‘inner circle’ with deep knowledge of events — and of Bankman-Fried’s character. The 28-year-old, who has already pled guilty to fraud charges, has consistently made headlines due to her former on-and-off-again relationship with Bankman-Fried.
Her testimony will likely further incriminate him. So here’s the background information you need ahead of her court debut.
Ellison has been blamed by Bankman-Fried’s attorneys
In the wake of FTX’s fallout, all eyes were on the role Ellison and Bankman-Fried played in the fraud. The pair met at quant trading firm Jane Street Capital. Ellison joined Alameda in March 2018 and was appointed co-CEO alongside Sam Trabucco.
In August 2022, just months before bankruptcy, Ellison became the sole chief following Trabucco’s resignation. While prosecutors argue that she was used “as a front” by Bankman-Fried, his lawyers already suggested that she was responsible for Alameda’s collapse — and that he trusted her to manage things without his direct involvement.
Witnesses like FTX co-founder Gary Wang have testified that under her leadership, Alameda received $8 billion of FTX customer deposits. However, Wang has also stated at trial that it was Bankman-Fried who ordered him to allow Alameda’s wallets to borrow exorbitant sums when its balance was negative, as far back as 2019.
In cross-examination, the defense is expected to continue its position of pointing the finger at Ellison to explain the firm’s collapse. Her recently-leaked diary entries are littered with resentment towards Bankman-Fried and Alameda in the wake of a frequent break-up, and concerns over her own ability to run Alameda, which may be used against her.
“Running Alameda doesn’t feel like something I’m that comparatively advantaged at or well suited to do,” Ellison wrote in one alarming admission.
Diary entries and bonus disparities suggest otherwise
On the other hand, however, diary entries also detailed that Ellison had “an instinct to shrink and become smaller and quieter and defer to others.” Entries detailing Bankman-Fried’s toxicity points to the fact that Bankman-Fried didn’t have the necessary respect to entrust Alameda to her.
What’s more, the leaked diary entries are thought to have been done by Bankman-Fried himself, in hopes to discredit Ellison as a star witness for prosecutors. This, alongside other violations of his bail, led him to be jailed before the trial began.
Court filings from March show that Ellison received 75% less in bonuses than her male counterparts before the crypto firms collapsed. While Bankman-Fried got $2.2 billion, Nishad Singh was given $587 million, and Wang received $246 million. Former Alameda co-CEO Trabucco was given $25 million in payouts — while she, the other co-CEO (and sole female exec), received just $6 million.
The reasons for the accute disparities are unknown — yet it’s another sign that suggests Bankman-Fried would never have entrusted Ellison with the running of Alameda to the point where he was unaware of the fraud.
Additionally, a recording obtained by prosecutors revealed that in an all-hands meeting right before bankruptcy, Ellison told everyone that Bankman-Fried was responsible for the decision to use FTX customer funds. Other documents and memos written by Ellison during this time further support their position that Ellison was acting on Bankman-Fried’s behalf, they said.
Bankman-Fried’s lawyers are expected to attempt to discredit Ellison as a key witness by highlighting that she’s cooperating with prosecutors in the hopes of a lighter sentence. They’re likely going to bring up the alleged recreational drug use that took place at FTX as a way to suggest that her memory was impaired.
“Nothing like regular amphetamine use to make you appreciate how dumb a lot of normal, non-medicated human experience is,” Ellison posted on X (formerly Twitter) back in April 2021.
Ellison’s testimony will begin later today (October 10). Protos is reporting from the New York City courtroom — keep updated through our rolling coverage.