It was a noticeably leaner Sam Bankman-Fried, his famously unkempt hair tamed and trimmed, who showed up in a New York courtroom for the start of his multibillion-dollar fraud trial.
The 31-year-old FTX co-founder arrived in Manhattan federal court for jury selection Tuesday dressed in a navy suit that seemed bigger on him than in previous appearances. He sat in the middle of the courtroom, flanked by his lawyers.
The suit is one of three US District Judge Lewis Kaplan ordered be maintained by US marshals or prison authorities while Bankman-Fried is locked up at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Centre. He has been in custody for nearly two months since Kaplan revoked his bail for allegedly attempting to tamper with witnesses.
His thinner appearance comports with what his lawyers claimed in unsuccessfully arguing for his release – that he was subsisting on “bread and water” in a facility lacking in vegan meal options.
Bankman-Fried’s newly shorn hair was perhaps the most striking change to his appearance. His thick black curls have long been his trademark and have become the subject of a series of internet memes.
On Tuesday, Bankman-Fried also appeared calmer and less fidgety than he has in previous court dates. He spent most of his time at the defence table on Tuesday staring and typing at a laptop in front of him. According to an order by Kaplan, the laptop was not able to access the internet. Bankman-Fried also occasionally conferred with lawyers and looked up at juror candidates.
Among those candidates was a woman who said she worked for tech-focused private equity firm Insight Venture Partners, which managed US$75 billion as of last December and lost money investing in FTX. She said she still felt she could be fair in considering the case, but expressed concern that she might have to impose capital punishment on Bankman-Fried.
“He’s not going to face the death penalty,” Kaplan assured her. The most serious charges against Bankman-Fried each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The government said the woman could be excused from serving on the jury.
Several other potential jurors said they had read about the case in the press, and one man said he couldn’t be impartial because he had become “fairly negative about crypto” over the past year. Another man, however, said he could not understand “how the cryptocurrency works”, even after his son tried to teach him.
“You probably have a lot of company in this court,” the judge said.
The judge at one point raised with Bankman-Fried the possibility of testifying in his own defence, telling him it was his own decision to make, even if his lawyers advised against it.
Asked if he understood, Bankman-Fried said: “Yes.”