“I’m not sure,” Mr. Bankman-Fried responded over and over, as Ms. Sassoon asked about statements he had made when he was chief executive of FTX. “I can’t recall,” he said at other points.
The cross-examination exposed cracks in Mr. Bankman-Fried’s claims, dealing a potentially serious blow to his credibility with the jury of nine women and three men who will decide his fate. On a large projector screen, Ms. Sassoon displayed statements that appeared to show Mr. Bankman-Fried saying one thing in public, then acting differently in private. After having him recount FTX’s outreach to government officials in Washington, Ms. Sassoon asked him to repeat private messages in which he used an expletive to dismiss regulators as useless.
Mr. Bankman-Fried’s testimony was the most anticipated moment of the trial, which has shined a spotlight on hubris and rampant risk-taking across the crypto industry. Once the face of crypto’s efforts to woo the public, Mr. Bankman-Fried is now widely compared to some of the most notorious fraudsters in recent history, including Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the failed blood-testing start-up Theranos.
Taking the stand was risky. Criminal defendants usually avoid testifying so that prosecutors don’t have a chance to question them. But the first few weeks of the trial were so damaging for Mr. Bankman-Fried, as a procession of government witnesses testified that he lied to the public and stole from FTX customers, that he was left with few other options to salvage the case.
In December, federal prosecutors charged Mr. Bankman-Fried with orchestrating a sweeping scheme to steal as much as $10 billion from FTX’s customers. They said he had spent the money on extravagant projects, including venture capital investments, political contributions and luxury real estate purchases in the Bahamas, where FTX was based. Mr. Bankman-Fried was also accused of creating a secret back door in FTX’s code that allowed a hedge fund he founded, Alameda Research, to seize billions of dollars in customer funds.