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FTX cryptocurrency fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried set to be sentenced

NEW YORK — Cryptocurrency con man Sam Bankman-Fried — expected to meet his fate Thursday for stealing at least $10 billion from investors of his digital currency exchange — offered up testimonials about his veganism ahead of sentencing in a bid for leniency.

The 32-year-old Palo Alto, Calififornia, man was found guilty by a jury in November of wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and related counts. He faces significant prison time for carrying out what prosecutors have described as one of the largest financial frauds in U.S. history, on par with the likes of the late Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.

Evidence at his monthlong Manhattan Federal Court trial showed that the entrepreneur positioned as the world’s youngest billionaire not long before his downfall secretly siphoned billions from his trading platform FTX to its sister hedge fund, Alameda Research, to splurge on a lavish lifestyle, court celebrity endorsements, and make illegal contributions to pols in both parties. Three of his top executives pleaded guilty to participating in his fraud after his December 2022 indictment.

The feds have requested Bankman-Fried serve a 40- or 50-year term. Probation officials recommended a staggering century behind bars, but his lawyers say he should serve no more than six.

Among letters submitted to the court before Thursday’s proceeding were character references from the fallen FTX founder’s friends, family and former Massachusetts Institute of Technology classmates lauding his dietary restrictions as evidence of his unerring moral compass.

“Sam felt deeply for every living being, farm animals included — so much so that he adhered to a vegan diet and convinced several others in our living group to become vegan, too. He took every actionable step he could to reduce suffering,” Daniel Grazian wrote.

“I believe that if Sam is given a lenient sentence, he will be an asset to society. If the fact that I still limit my meat consumption on ethical grounds is any indication, Sam will continue inspiring others to be a little bit kinder and gentler,” Grazian wrote.

Bankman-Fried, who has been at Brooklyn’s federal lockup since his bail was revoked last August, also submitted a letter from his psychiatrist, who has treated him since 2019 and was an “in-house coach” at FTX’s HQ in the Bahamas. Dr. Adam Hesterberg told the judge he determined the crypto entrepreneur was on the autism spectrum, which he said impaired how he communicated emotions and understood social cues.

“(When) Sam is stressed/overextended, he can lose his ability to compensate and as a result can come across to others as brusque, unfeeling, sometimes as if he doesn’t even hear them. As CEO of a $30 billion startup that went from zero to 100 in two years, he was under constant, immense pressure and shouldering way more responsibility than most people can cope with,” Hesterberg wrote.

In their 116-page sentencing memo, the feds said there was no question Bankman-Fried understood what he was doing, describing the evidence that he approved his hedge fund spending billions stolen from his customers in secret as “overwhelming.”

They said his loved ones’ belief that the self-described “effective altruist” planned to give away his riches and wasn’t motivated by greed was belied by his penthouse apartment, private jet and millions spent on renaming the Miami Heat’s sports arena after FTX, among other luxury expenses.

“Bankman-Fried is deserving of a severe sanction, proportionate to his role in this historic fraud.”

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