• By Amy Castor and David Gerard

The entire industry is Wile E Coyote and they don’t want to look down because if they don’t look down gravity won’t acknowledge they are standing on the clear blue sky.

Patrick McKenzie

How SBF got out on bail

How did Sam Bankman-Fried get out on $250 million bail with only his parent’s $4 million Palo Alto house put up as security? A lot of people — including lawyers! — are confused by this.

The short answer is that federal court, unlike state courts, defaults to the presumption of release.

Sam was released to stay with his parents on his own personal recognizance — which is little more than a promise that he’ll show up in court again. There’s no financial obligation. The terms of Sam’s bond initially required the signatures of Sam and his parents — Barbara Fried and Joseph Bankman — for his initial release on December 22. [Bail disposition, PDF; Appearance bond, PDF]

The idea of bail is to make sure that the accused will show up in court. In the federal court system, the Bail Reform Act of 1984 says that unless someone is a flight risk, they should get bail — and the court has great leeway in setting conditions.

The judge was reasonably sure that SBF wasn’t a flight risk. This was his first arrest, he wasn’t accused of a violent crime, he was a publicly-known person, and he complied with extradition. He did have to give up his passport, though. He can’t leave Palo Alto other than to show up in court in New York.

Bail works completely differently for federal white-collar defendants than for poor people accused of crimes in a state court — where bail can be arbitrary without regard to ability to pay, and is often punitive and used to try to coerce the defendant into pleading guilty. This is the sort of bail most people will have heard about, and that seems to be the source of the confusion.

Compare Reggie Fowler, Bitfinex/Tether’s money man in the U.S. The government pushed hard to have Fowler held as a flight risk. But the judge let Fowler out on a $5 million personal recognizance bond, and he hasn’t flown yet — though his sentencing has been delayed to March. In SBF’s case, federal prosecutors weren’t even pushing to hold him.

Many are also wondering why SBF’s parents did not have to come up with 10% of the bail, or $25 million, for the bond. This is also a misconception about state versus federal bail — where the convention is that you can pay a bail bondsman a nonrefundable 10% of your bail and he’ll put up the rest. Again, this is not at all a requirement at the federal level.

While Sam and his parents didn’t have to put any money down, it’s another story if Sam disappears. Sam’s parents’ home could be seized and the government could hold the bond co-signers liable for the full amount of the bond — which Sam’s parents obviously won’t be able to pay.

In SBF’s bail is a provision that by January 5, he has to find two wealthy friends, one of whom must be a non-family member, to put up surety — they need to sign bonds in lesser amounts “to be agreed to.” But if Sam can’t find anyone else to sign, it’s not clear how concerned the court will be, as long as Sam doesn’t flee and doesn’t violate other bail conditions. Sam’s parents have until January 12 to post the equity interest in their home.

The house is technically owned by Stanford University — the original Stanford land grant said that the land could not be sold. Professors buy a multi-decade lease on houses on campus, and Bankman and Fried put up their interest in that lease as security for the bail. This does not mean that Stanford is putting up Sam’s bail, as some have been claiming.

Ken White, better known as Popehat, a criminal lawyer in Los Angeles, was surprised that the court agreed to let Sam out on bail. Is the prospect of bankrupting his parents enough to keep Sam from misbehaving? “Personally, he strikes me as a man-child sociopath unlikely to be deterred by the complete destruction of his family.”[Serious Trouble

Fresh hell from FTX

Caroline Ellison and Gary Wang had their plea hearings on December 19. The hearings weren’t open to the public. Bloomberg reporters went and got the transcript from the court. (You have to go to the court physically.) Ellison and Wang both said they acted as directed by Sam Bankman-Fried, and they knew what they were doing was wrong. [Bloomberg]

Ronnie Abrams, the Southern District of New York judge who was overseeing the SBF case, has stepped down: “It has come to the Court’s attention that the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, at which my husband is a partner, advised FTX in 2021, as well as represented parties that may be adverse to FTX and Defendant Bankman-Fried.” [Bloomberg]

SBF appears to have pledged the same shares in day-trader brokerage Robinhood as collateral for multiple loans. There are now four jackals circling the corpse: BlockFi, FTX creditor Yonathan Ben Shimon, FTX led by John Jay Ray, and SBF himself, who has mounting legal bills. FTX has asked the court to freeze the shares until the issue is sorted out. [Doc 291, PDF]

SBF hasn’t posted to Twitter since December 12. But he’s still using Twitter, and just followed Dogecoin co-creator, Billy Markus. [Reddit]

Other FTX fallout

The collapse of FTX had systemic effects on crypto. Basically, everyone was just using FTX as their bank.

Didier J. Mary follows crypto-colonialism, where cryptocurrency missionaries try to inveigle themselves into poor countries — now that America is sick of crypto. Smart but poor people in Africa, wanting an opportunity, thought crypto might work to help them get ahead. The usual flurry of crypto-trader academies, masterclasses, and hype followed. Bank the unbanked!

A huge number of these African enterprises kept their cryptos at FTX — the blockchain contingent at the World Economic Forum promoted FTX in particular. That’s all gone now, and everyone’s wrecked. This post is in French but is very readable with a translator. [LinkedIn, in French]

Sam Bankman-Fried ended up putting $100 million into Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter. John Ray will definitely be calling to get that back. [Semafor]

Brendan Greeley from the Financial Times has locked down his Twitter in these post-Musk times, but in 2018 he gave us “Greeley’s First Law of Capitalism: Any industry that can afford stadium naming rights needs more aggressive regulation.” [Twitter]

Even Zhu Su from Three Arrows Capital (3AC) was calling out Alameda in 2019. [Twitter, archive

A&P has provided me with the world’s smallest turkey

As you sit around the Christmas table with the family, don’t forget to ask that relative how their “bot-coins” are going. Merry Christmas, and don’t let the buttcoins bite.

Feature image: This terrible picture is from a 2021 FTX Christmas tweet, in which Santa Sam takes treats out of the stockings and sends them to Alameda. [Twitter]

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