Jury selection begins in trial of fallen cryptocurrency mogul Sam Bankman-Fried

FILE - FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court, June 15, 2023, in New York. A judge on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, closed the door on Bankman-Fried’s hopes to be free during his trial, although he extended the hours that the cryptocurrency peddler can meet with his lawyers in a federal courthouse. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

NEW YORK — Jury selection began Tuesday in the fraud trial of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried after a prosecutor revealed that no discussions about a potential plea agreement took place in the nearly 10 months since the cryptocurrency executive was arrested and brought to the United States.

Once a billionaire, the 31-year-old crypto mogul faces the possibility of a long prison term if convicted at a trial projected to last up to six weeks. In a makeover for trial, Bankman-Fried gave up his wild big-hair look for a scissored-down trim more common in the financial industry. Introduced to jurors, he briefly stood in his suit and tie and turned their way.

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Nearly 50 prospective jurors were sent home and told to return Wednesday, when it was expected that a jury of 12 individuals and six alternates would be in place by late morning so opening statements could begin.

Prosecutors say Bankman-Fried defrauded people and financial institutions who had accounts worth billions of dollars at the cryptocurrency exchange by illegally diverting massive sums of their money for his personal use, including making risky trades at his cryptocurrency hedge fund, Alameda Research. He’s also accused of using customer money to buy real estate and make big political contributions to try to influence government regulation of cryptocurrency.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, who is overseeing the prosecution, has called it one of the biggest frauds in the country’s history.

Before the first prospective jurors were brought into a Manhattan courtroom, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos said that the government “early on” raised the question with lawyers for Bankman-Fried about whether negotiations aimed at resolving the case with a plea should take place.

“There were no discussions about a plea, and the government never made any plea offers,” he said. Mark Cohen, a defense lawyer, agreed.

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan posed nearly 50 questions to the jury pool to ensure that jurors would be fair regardless of what they had heard about the case or whether their life history included experiences with crime, law enforcement, the financial world and cryptocurrency.

A few jurors said they could be fair even though they had lost money through cryptocurrency.

But at least two had doubts. One man said he lost a lot with a cryptocurrency investment, and his twin brother lost so much that “it almost ruined him.” A woman said it would be hard to forget during the trial about a friend who killed himself more than a dozen years ago after getting swept up in a Ponzi scheme.

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