Fintech Security

2 FTX executives plead guilty; Ellison faces 110 years in prison

FTX co-founder and former Chief Technology Officer Gary Wang and the CEO of FTX’s sister company Alameda Research Caroline Ellison both pleaded guilty to charges related to the multibillion-dollar collapse of FTX, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Wednesday night.

The charges leveled against Ellison include wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy against FTX and Alameda Research customers, conspiracy to commit commodities and securities fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

All told, the seven charges carry a sentence of up to 110 years in prison and millions of dollars in monetary penalties, Reuters reported.

Wang’s charges include four counts of wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy, as well as conspiracy to commit commodities and securities fraud.

Wang could spend up to 50 years in prison and may also have to pay monetary penalties, according to Reuters.

Both are cooperating with the Justice Department.

Former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, meanwhile, is in FBI custody, Williams said, and at the time was headed to the U.S. from the Bahamas. Upon arrival, he will immediately be transferred to the Southern District of New York, Williams said.

Bankman-Fried had been in the custody of Bahamas Royal Police since Dec. 12.

FTX filed for bankruptcy a month and one day before Bankman-Fried’s arrest. Current FTX CEO John Ray told the House Financial Services Committee last week that under Bankman-Fried, FTX lost $8 billion in customer funds. Bankruptcy filings show that the FTX group of companies have potentially more than a million creditors, and that customer accounts numbered 2.7 million in the U.S. alone.

“As I said last week, this investigation is very much ongoing and is moving very quickly,” Williams said. “I also said that last week’s announcement would not be our last. And let me be clear once again: Neither is today’s.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced separate charges against Wang and Ellison Wednesday night, accusing the two of defrauding FTX investors.

The SEC alleged that from 2019 to 2022, Ellison manipulated the price of FTT, FTX’s native token, “by purchasing large quantities on the open market to prop up its price.” In turn, this “caused the value of collateral on Alameda’s balance sheet to be overstated, and misled investors about FTX’s risk exposure.”

The SEC alleged that Wang, alongside Bankman-Fried, improperly diverted FTX customer assets to Alameda; and also that he “created FTX’s software code that allowed Alameda to divert FTX customer funds.”

“As part of their deception, we allege that Caroline Ellison and Sam Bankman-Fried schemed to manipulate the price of FTT, an exchange crypto security token that was integral to FTX, to prop up the value of their house of cards,” SEC Chair Gary Gensler said in a prepared statement.

“We further allege that Ms. Ellison and Mr. Wang played an active role in a scheme to misuse FTX customer assets to prop up Alameda and to post collateral for margin trading,” Gensler said. “When FTT and the rest of the house of cards collapsed, Mr. Bankman-Fried, Ms. Ellison, and Mr. Wang left investors holding the bag.”  

Wang and Ellison are cooperating with and have entered into settlements with the SEC, the agency said.

“Until crypto platforms comply with time-tested securities laws, risks to investors will persist,” Gensler said. “It remains a priority of the SEC to use all of our available tools to bring the industry into compliance.”

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