SBF’s ex-girlfriend testified against him. Here’s what she said.

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Caroline Ellison (right), former chief executive officer of Alameda Research, leaves court after testifying during the trial of FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried on Oct. 10, 2023, in New York City. 

Caroline Ellison (right), former chief executive officer of Alameda Research, leaves court after testifying during the trial of FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried on Oct. 10, 2023, in New York City. 

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Sam Bankman-Fried’s ex-girlfriend Caroline Ellison has begun to testify in his New York trial, and she’s already delivered on the drama.

Bankman-Fried, the Bay Area-born former cryptocurrency mogul and son of two Stanford professors, faces federal charges of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. Prosecutors allege he defrauded customers of his crypto exchange FTX out of billions of dollars by using their money for bets at his hedge fund Alameda Research.

Now, his former inner circle is testifying against him, including Ellison, his business partner and on-and-off girlfriend. Ellison pleaded guilty to criminal fraud charges in December, like other Bankman-Fried lieutenants, and is now a crucial witness for the prosecution.

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She has painted a vivid picture on the stand of Bankman-Fried’s perhaps delusional ambition.

The 28-year-old Stanford alum met Bankman-Fried when the two worked at the same Wall Street firm. They bonded over the effective altruism movement before he hired her on to his new trading firm, Alameda Research, in 2018, as chronicled by the New York Times. She became co-CEO of Alameda in 2021, before her co-executive resigned and she took full control.

But all the while, she testified Tuesday, she was reporting to Bankman-Fried. 

In the first 15 minutes of her testimony, according to the Times, she repeatedly asserted that Bankman-Fried was, like her, guilty of using FTX customer deposits for Alameda Research’s use. “He directed me to commit these crimes,” she said, per the Times.

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Prosecutors also dug into the pair’s personal relationship. Ellison, the Times reported, testified that dating her boss created some “awkward situations” and that she broke up with him because he often felt distant and didn’t pay her enough attention. She described Bankman-Fried’s intensity in stark terms: “He said at one point he thought there was a 5 percent chance he would become president someday,” she said, according to Puck News reporter Teddy Schleifer

The wild testimony continued Wednesday morning.

Chinese government officials had frozen $1 billion in FTX funds as part of a money laundering investigation, according to an exhibit filed by the government. Prosecutors alleged that Bankman-Fried got the accounts unfrozen by bribing the officials with a massive sum of cryptocurrency transferred from Alameda to a private wallet. On Wednesday, according to Schleifer, Ellison claimed that the bribe only took place after FTX executives decided against a plan to “lose” the frozen money to accounts linked to Thai sex workers.

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The accounting of the alleged bribe seems apt for a business empire that spectacularly collapsed and now is facing an onslaught of criminal and civil litigation. Reporters in the courtroom Wednesday said that Ellison, in a written accounting of the payment, simply wrote, “-$150m from the thing.”

Ellison had already played a central role in the court proceedings before taking the stand this week. In July, the Times secured some of her private writings and said they “offer new insight into Ms. Ellison’s psychology”; the reported Google Docs included diaristic ponderings on the hedge fund she was tasked with running and her “painful” relationship with Bankman-Fried. The article prompted swift backlash: Prosecutors blamed Bankman-Fried for the leak and said he was trying to intimidate witnesses. His house arrest in Palo Alto was revoked, and he was transferred to a Brooklyn jail.

Hear of anything happening at a Bay Area tech company? Contact tech reporter Stephen Council securely at [email protected] or on Signal at 628-204-5452.

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