FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried testifies outside jury’s presence as judge decides what he can say

In this courtroom sketch, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is questioned during his trial in Manhattan federal court, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

In this courtroom sketch, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, right, is questioned by his attorney, Mark Cohen, left, as Judge Lewis Kaplan listens on the bench, center, during his trial Thursday in Manhattan federal court in New York. (Elizabeth Williams/via AP)

NEW YORK — Sam Bankman-Fried got a test run taking the stand at his New York criminal trial Thursday after a judge sent jurors home but let him demonstrate portions of his testimony before deciding which parts of it he’ll allow.

Bankman-Fried, 31, is expected to face the jury Friday when he testifies about his version of how his multibillion-dollar cryptocurrency empire grew into a giant in the industry and then collapsed, causing billions of dollars in losses that prosecutors blame on his extravagant spending on investments, donations and a lavish lifestyle.

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During nearly three hours of testimony Thursday after jurors were sent home, Bankman-Fried tried to show that the presence of lawyers when he made decisions about how he spent customer money led him to think he was acting legally.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Danielle Sassoon drilled him with the sort of questions he’ll likely face during cross-examination, frequently eliciting choppy answers in which Bankman-Fried seemed unsure of the conversations he’d had with lawyers.

Shortly before she finished, Sassoon pressed Bankman-Fried on why he hired a general counsel who had worked at a company that had a criminal insider trading scandal.

“I did want to find a general counsel who would be comfortable with the business being allowed to take reasonable risks,” Bankman-Fried said, adding that he did not want his top lawyer restraining the company from risk-taking.

Later, Sassoon asked if he was aware that his general counsel was using illegal narcotics with Bankman-Fried employees.

“Objection!” defense attorney Mark Cohen called out.

“Sustained,” Judge Lewis A. Kaplan answered. The judge said he’ll rule on Friday.

The possibility of Bankman-Fried testifying drew large crowds to the lower Manhattan courthouse Thursday. Those in court included Bankman-Fried’s parents, as well as Michael Lewis, the author who recently published a book on Bankman-Fried. Three overflow rooms contained dozens of crypto enthusiasts and spectators.

It seemed on Thursday that Bankman-Fried was about to start his testimony before the jury after lunch when the judge changed the plans, saying he’d prefer to make rulings on what Bankman-Fried can testify about before he starts.

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