First they were colleagues on a trading floor in New York. Then they were running a start-up together in Hong Kong. Eventually they became partners in a turbulent office romance chronicled in tabloid headlines around the world. On Tuesday, in a packed Manhattan courtroom, Sam Bankman-Fried and Caroline Ellison faced each other for the first time since the cryptocurrency trading companies they built together, FTX and Alameda Research, collapsed in November, the New York Times reports. Ellison, 28, took the stand for about four hours on the fifth day of Bankman-Fried’s fraud trial in federal court. Within the first 15 minutes of her testimony, Ellison repeatedly blamed Bankman-Fried, 31, for crimes that led to FTX’s implosion.
She testified that he instructed her to use FTX customer deposits to finance venture investments and loan repayments by Alameda Research, a crypto hedge fund that she oversaw for him. She said Alameda took in around $14 billion, only some of which it was able to repay. “He directed me to commit these crimes,” Ellison said, as Bankman-Fried sat across the room flanked by his lawyers. As the government’s star witness — and Bankman-Fried’s most widely discussed associate — Ellison is a key figure in the trial, and her testimony was a highly anticipated moment. She is regarded as a chief accomplice to Bankman-Fried, who became a symbol of hubris and dangerous risk taking across the cryptocurrency industry after he was charged with masterminding a sweeping conspiracy to steal billions of dollars in deposits from FTX’s customers. Her romantic relationship with Bankman-Fried, whom she dated on and off, gave her unique access to the FTX founder as he built his crypto empire.