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Who Is Lewis Kaplan? NY Mobster Gotti, Prince Andrew, Donald Trump – Sam Bankman-Fried Trial Judge Has Seen It All

Published September 14, 2023 5:00 PM
James Morales
Published September 14, 2023 5:00 PM
Key Takeaways
  • Judge Kaplan is presiding over Sam Bankman-Fried’s fraud trial, which is due to start next month.
  • Previously, Kaplan has overseen cases involving John Gotti, Prince Andrew, Kevin Spacey, and Donald Trump.
  • He is known as a no-nonsense judge who has little patience for defendants misbehaving.

On October 3, Sam Bankman-Fried will take it to the box in New York, in one of the biggest fraud trials of all time. After nearly a year of anticipation, coverage of the trial is likely to be intense.

But if SBF’s lawyers are hoping to manipulate the media frenzy to their advantage, they may have another thing coming. The trial will be overseen by Lewis A. Kaplan, a New York judge known for his command of the courtroom and short patience for diversionary legal maneuvers. 

Lewis Kaplan’s Storied Judicial Career

Over the years, Judge Kaplan has presided over some of the most high-profile trials of modern American history.

In 2011, he sentenced  the Guantanamo Bay detainee Ahmed Ghailan to life imprisonment for his role in Al Qaeda’s 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. 

Kaplan also handed down a life sentence to Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and senior adviser who was convicted  of terrorism charges in 2014

As a senior judge in the Southern District of New York, in 2010, Kaplan was assigned to preside over the cases of 14 Gambino crime family members, including Onofrio “Noel” Modica, who was convicted  of attempting to tamper with witnesses in the 1992 trial of mob boss John Gotti.

More recently, Kaplan oversaw separate sexual assault lawsuits brought against Prince Andrew and Kevin Spacey. The former was settled out of court in 2021. Spacey was cleared of charges in 2022.

Finally, this year, Kaplan acted as the presiding judge in the case of E. Jean Carroll v. Donald J. Trump.

After considering Carroll’s rape, sexual assault, and defamation allegations, the jury awarded her Carroll a total of $5 million in damages. Trump is currently appealing the decision.

Implications for Bankman-Fried

In the run-up to his trial, SBF hasn’t exactly endeared himself to Judge Kaplan.

The FTX founder eventually had his bail revoked after Kaplan deemed that he contacted witnesses in an attempt to influence or intimidate them. Prior to that, Bankman-Fried received multiple warnings over his use of electronic devices, which his bail conditions restricted.

In a recent podcast, former New York prosecutor Rebecca Mermelstein said the judge appeared to have “lost some of his patience with the defendant’s conduct, which is not the place you want to be.”

This is especially concerning for SBF, as Mermelstein noted that Kaplan was viewed as a “harsh sentencer” among prosecutors.

Overall, she observed that Bankman-Fried is probably facing 30 years to life if he is found guilty. 

“If I were him, I’d be thinking about whether or not there was a plea offer that made sense,” she added. 

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