FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried and Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison have each retained high-powered criminal defense attorneys specializing in white-collar crimes amid the ongoing law enforcement probes into the collapse of their crypto empire.
Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas on Monday at the request of U.S. authorities ahead of his likely extradition at a later date. On Tuesday, a federal prosecutor unsealed an indictment revealing Bankman-Fried has been charged with eight crimes.
The charges against him include wire fraud on customers, plus a related conspiracy charge; wire fraud on lenders, plus a conspiracy charge; in addition to conspiracies to commit commodities fraud, securities fraud, money laundering, and violate campaign finance laws.
In total, the charges Bankman-Fried faces carry a total potential sentence of up to 115 years in prison based on federal sentencing guidelines for those crimes. The wire fraud charges – including the conspiracy charges – and the money laundering conspiracy count carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison apiece. Each of the commodities and securities fraud charges and the campaign finance conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The task of preventing Bankman-Fried from spending the rest of his life in prison if found guilty of the crimes he stands accused of falls to Mark Cohen, of Cohen & Gresser law firm.
Cohen, a former federal prosecutor, has represented a variety of clients including financial firms, hedge funds, executives, energy companies, and others facing federal charges. Notably, Cohen represented Jeffrey Epstein's confidante Ghislaine Maxwell in her sex trafficking trial and was a defense attorney for Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who was a leader in the Sinaloa drug cartel.
At a press conference Tuesday announcing the charges against Bankman-Fried, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said that the Bankman-Fried case, which has drawn comparisons to Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme and the Enron scandal, will go down as "one of the biggest frauds in American history."
Williams also issued an ominous warning to Bankman-Fried's conspirators who may face charges, saying, "In terms of whether we're going to bring charges against anyone else, look, I can only say this: Clearly, we are not done."
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.