Sam Bankman-Fried could face years in prison over FTX’s $32 billion meltdown — if the U.S. ever gets around to arresting him

Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced former CEO of FTX — the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange that was worth $32 billion a few weeks ago — has a real knack for self-promotional PR. For years, he cast himself in the likeness of a young boy genius turned business titan, capable of miraculously growing his crypto empire as other players got wiped out. Everyone from Silicon Valley’s top venture capitalists to A-list celebrities bought the act.

But during Bankman-Fried’s press junket of the last few weeks, the onetime wunderkind has spun a new narrative – one in which he was simply an inexperienced and novice businessman who was out of his depth, didn’t know what he was doing, and crucially, didn’t know what was happening at the businesses he founded.

It is quite the departure from the image he had carefully cultivated since launching his first crypto firm in 2017 – and according to former federal prosecutors, trial attorneys and legal experts speaking to CNBC, it recalls a classic legal defense dubbed the “bad businessman strategy.”

At least $8 billion in customer funds are missing, reportedly used to backstop billions in losses at Alameda Research, the hedge fund he also founded. Both of his companies are now bankrupt with billions of dollars worth of debt on the books. The CEO tapped to take over, John Ray III, said that “in his 40 years of legal and restructuring experience,” he had never seen “such a complete failure of corporate controls and such a complete absence of trustworthy financial information as occurred here.” This is the same Ray who presided over Enron’s liquidation in the 2000s.

In America, it is not a crime to be a lousy or careless CEO with poor judgement. During his recent press tour from a remote location in the Bahamas, Bankman-Fried really leaned into his own ineptitude, largely blaming FTX’s collapse on poor risk management.

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