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Will Sam Bankman-Fried Testify? Ex-SDNY Prosecutor Says ‘Don’t!’

Last Updated September 14, 2023 3:31 PM
James Morales
Last Updated September 14, 2023 3:31 PM
Key Takeaways
  • Sam Bankman-Fried’s fraud trial approaches. Will he testify in court?
  • Former New York prosecutor Rebecca Mermelstein recently weighed in on the matter.
  • According to Mermelstein, the disgraced FTX founder has little to gain by taking the stand.
  • If he is found guilty, Mermelstein said Bankman-Fried faces a sentence of 30 years to life.

With Sam Bankman-Fried’s trial on fraud charges scheduled to begin next month, speculation over whether or not he will take the stand is rising.

Michael Lewis, a journalist and author publishing a book on Bankman Fried’s rise and fall, recently discussed the question with a former Southern District of New York (SDNY) prosecutor.

Bankman-Fried Has Little to Gain by Testifying in Court

Outsiders won’t know what legal tactics the SDNY prosecutor’s office will apply in its case against Sam Bankman Fried (SBF) until the trial starts in October. 

But if anyone has insight into how the case might go down, it would be Rebecca Mermelstein, a former prosecutor in the SDNY’s securities fraud unit.

In an episode of Lewis’ podcast , Mermelstein said the  “big question” prosecutors will be thinking about is whether Bankman-Fried will testify.

Speculating as to whether he would, she insisted, “the general wisdom is always—don’t.”

Emphasizing that defendants have an absolute right not to say anything, Mermelstein observed that “it’s easier to poke holes in someone else’s story rather than come up with a completely coherent narrative.”

As she explained, the moment a defendant takes the stand, jurors’ attitudes are prone to shift. If SBF opted to testify, he would risk reframing the trial as a matter of whose story is more believable. She added that remaining silent makes the jury more likely to base their decision on the strength of the prosecution’s argument.

SBF Looking at 30 Years to Life

Asked to weigh in on the kind of sentence SBF might receive if he is found guilty, Mermelstein said, “he’s looking at a long sentence if he’s convicted, if you look at comparable [cases].”

She pointed out that SDNY fraud sentencing guidelines take into account the monetary value of the fraud itself. In SBF’s case, she remarked that the figures involved are “off the charts.”

Referencing Bernie Madoff, the American financier who was convicted of masterminding $64.8 billion Ponzi scheme in 2009, Mermelstein noted that Madoff received a life sentence. “That’s among the largest white-collar frauds to date,” she observed, and unlike SBF, he pled guilty. 

Worse still for the disgraced crypto tycoon, Memelstein said Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is overseeing the SBF trial, “is seen as a more harsh sentencer.” 

Although she said the relevant sentencing guidelines don’t propose a lower limit for jail time, based on past precedent, “30 years to life” seems likely.

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