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Inside the mind-boggling world of Sam Bankman-Fried. The scruffy crypto fraudster was hailed as a genius and had Bill Clinton Tony Blair eating out of his unwashed hand – before his £21bn empire came crashing down in a matter of days, reports TOM LEONARD

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair sat and listened in awe to his young thoughts on the world. Katy Perry was so impressed she mentioned his company in a karaoke song.

Sam Bankman-Fried, the scruffy cryptocurrency king, once had the world’s rich and famous eating out of his unwashed hand.

But the man Silicon Valley experts once predicted could become the world’s first trillionaire is now contemplating another daunting number – as a New York judge has handed down a 25-year prison sentence for masterminding one of the biggest financial frauds on record.

Today’s sentencing by Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan’s federal court provided the final act in an astonishing fall from grace for a tech-world golden boy – commonly known as ‘SBF’ – whose business empire went from £21billion to virtually nothing in a matter of days.

Sam Bankman-Fried has been given a 25-year prison sentence for using deposits in his FTX crypto exchange as a  $10billion (£8.2billion) slush fund to finance stock market investments

The Judge branded him as ‘remorseless’ as he condemned his ‘evasive, hairsplitting’ testimony during the trial. Bankman-Fried acknowledged he made ‘selfish decisions’ that haunt him ‘every day’.

Even though it happened in a dazzlingly new industry that outsiders tend to find mind-bogglingly confusing, SBF’s fraud – stealing digital money from people who believed it was safe with him – was essentially straightforward and almost as old as crime itself.

He set up a cryptocurrency exchange called FTX where owners of these online currencies, the most famous of which is Bitcoin, could store them.

However, SBF fraudulently used these deposits as a $10billion (£8.2billion) slush fund to finance risky stock market investments and a lavish lifestyle that included using private jets, buying a £25million mansion in the Bahamas, making huge political donations and paying himself vast amounts of money.

A childhood maths genius and graduate of the celebrated Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bankman-Fried rode the largely speculative crypto-boom despite later claiming he barely understood the ‘currencies’.

He became one of the Democratic Party’s biggest funders and was courted by film stars, pop icons, supermodels and even ex-world leaders such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair who flocked to hear him opine on the future of finance.

According to prosecutors, he hid his crimes by posing as a scatty, socially inept but benign entrepreneur, whose preference for dishevelled clothes reflected a young man who wasn’t interested in wealth but who just wanted to make the world a better place.

He embraced a philanthropic movement known as ‘effective altruism’ which encourages talented people to make as much money as possible so they can donate it to good causes.

But last November, it all came crashing down as the wild-haired 32-year-old – wearing a tan-coloured short-sleeve jail T-shirt for his sentencing – was found guilty on seven fraud and conspiracy charges that stemmed from the spectacular collapse of FTX in late 2022.

Prosecutors demolished his claims that he was just a clueless ‘altruist’ who naively overtrusted his colleagues. He was disorganised, incompetent and even irresponsible, he’d insisted, but not a swindler.

Bankman-Fried's business empire went from £21billion to virtually nothing in a matter of days

Bankman-Fried’s business empire went from £21billion to virtually nothing in a matter of days

The FTX founder lavished eye-watering sums on various A-listers, including paying Gisele Bundchen £16million to make adverts for FTX

The FTX founder lavished eye-watering sums on various A-listers, including paying Gisele Bundchen £16million to make adverts for FTX

Before announcing today’s sentence, Judge Kaplan reminded the court that Bankman-Fried had lied on the witness stand at his trial at least three times, including when he said he hadn’t known that a hedge fund he had also founded had spent customer deposits taken from FTX. The judge also cited evidence of witness tampering.

Judge Kaplan said he’d found that FTX customers lost $8billion, FTX equity investors lost $1.7billion and lenders to Alameda Research, Bankman-Fried’s hedge fund, lost $1.3billion.

‘The defendant’s assertion that FTX customers and creditors will be paid in full is misleading, it is logically flawed, it is speculative,’ the judge told the court.

‘A thief who takes his loot to Las Vegas and successfully bets the stolen money is not entitled to a discount on the sentence by using his Las Vegas winnings to pay back what he stole.’

Prosecutors had been pushing for a sentence of 40 to 50 years.

‘His life in recent years has been one of unmatched greed and hubris; of ambition and rationalisation; and courting risk and gambling repeatedly with other people’s money,’ the US Attorney’s office had said in a sentencing memo two weeks ago.

Bankman-Fried may well be followed to prison by three of his colleagues, including his on-off girlfriend Caroline Ellison, who have pleaded guilty and are yet to be sentenced.

Although the judge declined to pursue FTX’s investors, saying they weren’t relevant to the charges against SBF, critics say the many celebrities – some paid handsomely for their services – who helped publicise the fraudulent enterprise shouldn’t escape without censure.

For SBF understood the power of celebrity endorsement and needed stars on board to drum up excitement about cryptocurrencies as a secretive industry sought to break free from its traditional association with drug-traffickers and money launderers.

He lavished eye-watering sums on various A-listers, paying American Football icon Tom Brady £45million and his then-wife, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, another £16million for just 20 hours of their time making adverts for FTX.

Before the sentencing Judge Lewis Kaplan reminded the court that Bankman-Fried had lied on the witness stand at his trial at least three times

Before the sentencing Judge Lewis Kaplan reminded the court that Bankman-Fried had lied on the witness stand at his trial at least three times

Bankman-Fried may well be followed to prison by three of his colleagues, including his on-off girlfriend Caroline Ellison, who have pleaded guilty and are yet to be sentenced

Bankman-Fried may well be followed to prison by three of his colleagues, including his on-off girlfriend Caroline Ellison, who have pleaded guilty and are yet to be sentenced

He also splashed out £8million on actor Larry David, star of the comedy series Curb Your Enthusiasm, to appear in a 60-second commercial that was shown on US TV during the Super Bowl.

According to SBF’s biographer Michael Lewis, FTX had agreed a deal to pay the superstar singer Taylor Swift between £20million and £25million a year just to plug the company, but Bankman-Fried eventually backed out of it.

Lewis detailed how SBF first met many of his future celebrity pals at a dinner party in February 2022, held at the Beverly Hills mansion of Hollywood agent turned investor Michael Kives.

The guest list – including Hillary Clinton, Leonardo Di Caprio, Katy Perry, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, actors Orlando Bloom and Kate Hudson and at least four members of the Kardashian family – was so impressive (not to mention unlikely) that SBF’s staff thought it might be a ruse.

And they were impressed by him, having heard so much about the financial genius who could bring respectability to the shady world of cryptocurrencies and make them even richer.

However, his underlings instead convinced themselves the dinner could be a kidnap attempt by criminals who knew SBF was a billionaire with no bodyguards.

After flying out with him from his base in The Bahamas, a senior FTX executive, accompanied by a small ‘rescue team’, duly waited outside the party in a car ready to ‘storm’ the house and extract him if necessary.

In the event, he was led out to the back lawn, dressed, of course, in his customary cargo shorts and T-shirt, and found that the 50-strong guest list was just as billed. ‘I think it’s real,’ he texted his team outside.

The socially awkward SBF emerged from his shell to chat with Mrs Clinton and Perry who, during a karaoke session that evening, sang a song whose lyrics had been changed to mention FTX. The next day Perry jokily gushed on Instagram she was leaving music to become an FTX intern.

The charm offensive paid off. Two months later, when FTX held a four-day conference in April at a luxury resort in The Bahamas, some of those he’d met at the party or other celebrities associated with them flocked to attend the $3,000-a-ticket event.

Attendees of Crypto Bahamas, held at the luxury Grand Hyatt Baha Mar hotel, queued to pose for a selfie with SBF, who took part in many of the debates.

Those who agreed to sit down and solemnly chat with the conman must cringe with embarrassment now.

Blair and Clinton, joined him on the FTX stage for a discussion that was entitled The World Today.

Bundchen, who had been signed on rather preposterously as FTX’s head of ‘environmental and social initiatives’, sat down with Bankman-Fried for a talk entitled ‘Effective Altruism: Education, Empowerment and Environment’.

Bundchen’s then-husband, sports star Brady, who like her had signed a ‘long-term’ partnership with FTX and was one of its ‘ambassadors’, gave a talk with SBF on ‘Winning’.

Predictably, those involved in the event had little to say when, just a few months later, FTX collapsed and SBF was arrested. Although they clearly had no idea about the fraud, no one came out of the incident looking good.

Also embarrassed by their links with SBF are the US Democratic Party, who took millions of dollars of his money and later allowed him to help steer legislation on cryptocurrencies.

Joe Biden’s 2020 election campaign received $5million and SBF showered a jaw-dropping $40million on favoured candidates (most of them Democrats) subsequent congressional midterms.

The great and the good were often too anxious to court SBF and they didn’t come much more eager than Vogue queen Anna Wintour who reportedly had a humiliating encounter with SBF during a Zoom video chat.

The pair had been put in touch with each other by Bundchen. If the notoriously haughty magazine editor knew that SBF was actually playing a video game while pretending to listen to her wittering on about her annual, celebrity-packed Met Gala charity ball in New York which she wanted him not only to attend but to finance it appears that she didn’t let on.

SBF had flown by private jet from the Bahamas to Los Angeles in February 2022, taking with him just his laptop and a change of underwear, for a string of business meetings and parties.

One morning, while he was staying in LA’s Beverly Hilton hotel, British-born Wintour popped up on his screen.

‘Sam didn’t really know who Anna Wintour was,’ wrote biographer Michael Lewis. ‘Natalie [his assistant] and others had briefed him, but he hadn’t paid attention.’

SBF was, however, contemptuous of the fashion world. As Wintour began to speak, ‘he clicked a button and she vanished from his screen’. Instead, he started playing his favourite video game, Storybook Brawl, in which fantasy creatures battle for supremacy.

Still able to hear her on his headphones, he would answer ‘Yup’ to everything she said. ‘Unless she watched his eyes, she had no reason to think that he wasn’t paying attention,’ Lewis said.

SBF ended the call leaving Wintour under the distinct impression he would not only be her special guest on the red carpet but ‘might even pay for the entire thing’.

Over the ensuing weeks, his staff asked Louis Vuitton to come up with a high-fashion version of his ubiquitous T-shirt and cargo shorts and also paid Tom Ford to design a ‘more conventional outfit, complete with £53,000 cufflinks’.

When, at the last minute, SBF’s assistant told the notoriously formidable Wintour’s office he wasn’t going, they were reportedly furious, shouting that ‘Sam will never set foot in fashion again’.

That wouldn’t have bothered him. SBF and nine young flatmates he knew from university and his first job on Wall Street shared a luxurious five-bedroom property in the Bahamas. Although reports of wild sexual coupling were later disputed, insiders claimed they lived in a ‘polycule’ a polyamorous relationship in which they were in and out of sexual relationships with each other.

SBF will now once more be sharing cosy conditions inside a federal prison – although it’s unlikely to be quite so congenial.

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