FTX’s Bahamas crypto empire: Stimulants, subterfuge and a spectacular collapse

Before Sam Bankman-Fried’s $16 billion empire imploded, Margaux Avedisian remembers thinking there was something unsettling about the cryptocurrency wunderkind.

Bankman-Fried had become a legend by pushing an image of monkish aloofness, vowing to forsake the allures of his extraordinary wealth – sleeping on beanbag chairs, driving a Toyota Corolla – and to give away his fortune for the greater good.

Yet in April, when Avedisian was hired as a master of ceremonies for a conference in the Bahamas sponsored by FTX, Bankman-Fried’s crypto exchange, she saw how the 30-year-old billionaire really lived: in a guarded island compound, every need closely catered to, the world’s elite at his beck and call.

Conference guests partied in casinos where Bahamians weren’t allowed to gamble and hobnobbed with celebrity attendees, including singer Katy Perry and football veteran Tom Brady. For one party, VIPs took a boat from the island to a second, even fancier island for a feast of lobster, a private DJ concert and an open bar.

“You’re living this lifestyle of poverty, but you’re partying with Katy Perry?” she recalled thinking. “Why would you want to hang out with these celebrities if you’re so head-down trying to change the world?”

When Bankman-Fried and his band of crypto risk-takers moved to the Bahamas last year in a blitz of extravagant spending, they promised to remake the island paradise into a global capital of the new financial elite. Some Bahamians said they felt lucky to have an opportunity to work so close to a superstar.

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