Too fun to check: Has Ellison flipped on Bankman-Fried in FTX scam?

Too fun to check: Has Ellison flipped on Bankman-Fried in FTX scam?

Sam Bankman-Fried now sits in a Bahamian prison, accused of pulling off what may be the largest scam since Bernie Madoff. The Department of Justice now seeks to extradite him from the Bahamas after hitting him with an indictment on charges that theoretically could put him in federal prison for over 100 years:

Meanwhile, SBF’s partner in (alleged) crime has spent her time hitting the shops in Manhattan. Caroline Ellison, formerly the CEO for SBF-owned Alameda Research as well as reportedly SBF’s girlfriend, has very pointedly not been arrested and isn’t fleeing for other jurisdictions. So what gives?

Market Watch wonders as well:

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is squarely in the spotlight following his arrest in the Bahamas, but attention is also focused on the whereabouts of Caroline Ellison, former CEO of Alameda Research, the hedge fund closely affiliated with FTX. …

The links between FTX and Alameda Research are coming under intense scrutiny. The cryptocurrency exchange used customer money to lend billions of dollars to Alameda for risky trades and investments, the Wall Street Journal reports. Citing FTX bankruptcy filings, the Wall Street Journal also reports that Bankman-Fried owned 90% of Alameda Research. …

The former Alameda CEO was reportedly spotted at a Manhattan coffee shop earlier this month, prompting speculation that she may be cooperating with authorities.

Ellison’s last tweet was on Nov. 9.

Ellison quit making public statements, which proves at least that she’s smarter than her former partner. She also may be smarter in her choice of legal representation and leveraging her way out of a massive prosecution. Fox News reported that Ellison has hired a well-connected law firm that specializes in getting favorable plea deals for Wall Street clients:

As of Tuesday, no charges have been filed against Caroline Ellison, the reported ex-girlfriend of Bankman-Fried who he appointed to lead Alameda Research.

However, Ellison has retained the services of Stephanie Avakian, a partner at the law firm of WilmerHale. Avakian has deep experience in legal issues related to the financial sector, as she was previously the director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement.

At present, Avakian leads WilmerHale’s Securities and Financial Services Department and has worked to counsel and defend publicly-traded companies, corporate boards, investment banks, and individual executives involved with government investigations.

Fox Business’ Charles Gasparino noted on Twitter that Ellison’s choice of an attorney from WilmerHale has fueled speculation that “she will cooperate” with prosecutors and turn on Bankman-Fried given the firm’s connections to the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan and its reputation for securing plea deals.

Inside Edition also picked up on this last night:

The Department of Justice promised in their unveiling of the indictment against Bankman-Fried that more indictments will emerge. “Clearly, we are not done,” US Attorney Damian Williams declared at the presser yesterday. It still raises questions about why the DoJ dropped this massive indictment against Bankman-Fried and the FTX-Alameda scam without also indicting the other half of that partnership at the same time. If the FTX-Alameda case will “go down as one of the biggest frauds in American history,” as Williams also promised, then the top of the other half of that scheme should be just as legally liable for it.

Given that, Ellison may only be able to mitigate her risk. Bankman-Fried may have given prosecutors plenty of ammunition to convict him with his own words without Ellison’s cooperation. This may be more a project to limit Ellison’s prison time rather than get immunity — and it seems pretty unlikely that the DoJ could let Ellison off the hook on a scam of this depth and breadth.

What other leverage would Ellison have besides Bankman-Fried? She may know where some of the money went, which will be a key point in getting at least some restitution to their victims. A good forensic accountant with experience in crypto probably could figure that out, though. The DoJ may feel they need an insider to testify in order to convict the rest of the SBF inner circle and others connected to the fraud.

So far, no one’s talking about this. It’s clear, though, that Ellison spent her time clamming up and strategizing over her legal liabilities rather than attempting to spin the story for the media, as Bankman-Fried did. That may have given her enough of an opening to save her own skin — in terms of criminal liability, anyway.

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