FTX’s Bankman-Fried ‘subsisting on bread and water’ in jail, lawyer says

By Luc Cohen and Jody Godoy

NEW YORK (Reuters) -FTX cryptocurrency exchange founder Sam Bankman-Fried is “subsisting on bread and water” because the federal jail where he is being held ahead of his fraud trial has not provided him with a vegan diet as he requested, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Bankman-Fried, 31, pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court to seven criminal charges contained in a new indictment during a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn.

His lawyer, Mark Cohen, told Netburn during the hearing that a lack of adequate food and medication provided at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center was hampering Bankman-Fried’s ability to prepare for his scheduled October trial.

The former billionaire was led into court wearing leg restraints and a beige-colored uniform for his first appearance since his bail was revoked on Aug. 11 by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who found that Bankman-Fried had tampered with witnesses at least twice.

“Not guilty,” Bankman-Fried told Netburn in entering his plea.

After the hearing, Bankman-Fried spoke to his mother, Stanford Law School Professor Barbara Fried, across the low partition between the courtroom well and the galley.

The new indictment, returned on Aug. 14, charged Bankman-Fried with seven counts of fraud and conspiracy over the November 2022 collapse of FTX, which is now in bankruptcy.

Prosecutors accused him of stealing billions of dollars in FTX customer funds to plug losses at his hedge fund, Alameda Research. Bankman-Fried has acknowledged inadequate risk management at FTX, but has denied stealing customer funds.

The indictment no longer charges Bankman-Fried with conspiring to violate U.S. campaign finance laws. Prosecutors said the Bahamas, which extradited Bankman-Fried to the United States in December 2022, objected to him being tried on that count.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan said they would nevertheless seek to show that the $100 million Bankman-Fried allegedly donated to U.S. political campaigns and causes was part of his wider-ranging fraud scheme.

At Tuesday’s hearing, his lawyers said the jail’s failure to provide him with the medication Adderall to treat attention deficit hyperactive disorder – despite a court order for the facility to do so – and serve him vegan food would hinder his ability to participate in preparing his defense case.

“Because he’s following his principles, he is literally now subsisting on bread and water,” Cohen said, adding that his client’s supply of the medication Emsam to treat depression was running low.

Kaplan, who will oversee Bankman-Fried’s trial, on Aug. 14 ordered the jail to provide the defendant with the two drugs.

Netburn said during the hearing she would ask the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons, which runs the jail, to address the issues with Bankman-Fried’s medication. Netburn said she was “reasonably confident” the facility – long plagued by conditions public defenders have called “inhumane” – offered vegetarian food, but was not sure vegan food was available.

In a statement, the Bureau of Prisons said MDC inmates had access to “appropriate” healthcare, medicine and hot meals. It said the facility “provides nutritionally adequate meals” following the requirements of a national menu that is “analyzed yearly to ensure all dietary requirements are met.”

Bankman-Fried was jailed after sharing the personal writings of his former romantic partner and colleague, Caroline Ellison, with a New York Times reporter. Ellison, who had been Alameda’s chief executive, is one of three former members of his inner circle who have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against him at trial. 

(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Jody Godoy in New YorkEditing by Will Dunham and Matthew Lewis)