By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Tuesday said prosecutors can discuss Sam Bankman-Fried’s political donations at his upcoming trial, because the contributions are relevant to the fraud charges faced by the FTX cryptocurrency exchange founder.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan said evidence of the former billionaire’s donations were “intertwined inextricably” with charges he defrauded FTX customers by stealing billions of dollars in deposits.
“Evidence that the defendant spent FTX customer funds on political contributions is direct evidence of the wire fraud scheme because it is relevant to establishing the defendant’s motive and allegedly fraudulent intent,” Kaplan wrote.
Federal prosecutors initially charged Bankman-Fried, 31, with conspiring to break U.S. campaign finance laws, in addition to seven other fraud and conspiracy charges stemming from the now-bankrupt FTX’s November 2022 collapse.
They later dropped the campaign finance charge after the Bahamas, where Bankman-Fried was arrested in December, said it was not part of its agreement to extradite him.
Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to all charges. His trial is set to start on Oct. 3.
Before FTX’s demise, Bankman-Fried had been among the largest donors to Democratic candidates and causes ahead of the November 2022 midterm elections.
Prosecutors said he used $100 million in stolen FTX deposits to fund those donations, which he hoped would spur the passage of crypto-friendly legislation.
In his ruling, Kaplan also rejected Bankman-Fried’s request to bar prosecutors from telling jurors that FTX had declared bankruptcy and he had resigned as chief executive.
Bankman-Fried has said FTX lawyers pressured him to let the exchange file for Chapter 11, and that he received an offer for substantial funding shortly thereafter.
Prosecutors said Bankman-Fried later sought to interfere with the bankruptcy estate, and undermine FTX creditors, by moving assets to cryptocurrency wallets controlled by Bahamian regulators.
Kaplan said such evidence would be relevant at trial.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
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