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Parent of FTX victim who lost $130,000 asks judge to go easy on SBF, suggests six years in prison versus DOJ’s 40-50

Heather Ferguson’s son lost almost $130,000 in cash when cryptocurrency exchange FTX went bankrupt in November 2022. Ferguson traveled to where her child lived to console him for four days. Ferguson wrote to U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan on Tuesday that since hitting rock bottom, he has demonstrated “resilience,” “confidence,” and a “determination to meet life’s challenges head on with renewed focus and vigor.”

It helps that in January, her son was contacted by the organization in charge of disbursing FTX client monies and informed that he will be refunded the whole sum owed.

“I am writing to convey my hope that Sam Bankman-Fried will be sentenced to 70 months for his role in FTX’s collapse,” Ferguson wrote in her letter to the judge. “The hope that customer funds will be reimbursed in some measures mitigates the severity of Sam’s guilt, and it seems to me that the length of his sentence should reflect this fact.”

Ferguson’s letter
is part of an eleventh-hour drive by the defense to appeal to Kaplan’s leniency as the judge prepares to sentence Bankman-Fried on Thursday.

In November, a jury of twelve found the former crypto executive guilty of all seven criminal counts against him, including wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud against FTX customers and Alameda Research lenders; conspiracy to commit securities fraud and commodities fraud against FTX investors; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Yesha Yadav, law professor and Associate Dean at Vanderbilt University, previously told CNBC that the jury’s ability to reach a unanimous verdict in just a few hours that FTX’s ex-CEO stole $8 billion from customers of his now bankrupt crypto exchange indicates that they were truly convinced and that no holdouts needed to be coaxed.

On Tuesday, the defense submitted three letters of support for Bankman-Fried, while prosecutors filed more than 50 letters of their own, bringing the total number of victim impact statements to 117.

The question of whether FTX customers’ bankruptcy settlements should impact the court’s sentencing decision is a major point of disagreement.

Earlier this month, federal prosecutors in Manhattan told the court that Bankman-Fried should serve 40 to 50 years in jail.

“Even now, Bankman-Fried refuses to admit what he did was wrong,” the government stated.

Even as the bankruptcy estate promises to pay back customers in full, many of FTX’s thousands of victims (reportedly up to a million) argue that their crypto stakes have been significantly undervalued by the exchange’s new leadership team.

Ferguson, one of three concerned parents, urged Kaplan to consider Bankman-Fried’s emotional and behavioral issues at sentence.

“Along the vein of mitigating factors, some mention should be made of Sam’s ASD and the afflictive emotions that stemmed from his ADHD and his medications,” Ferguson wrote in the letter. “These are relevant factors in his background which likely caused him to show poor judgment, but did not likely correlate with an intention to be malicious toward his clients.”

Bankman-Fried’s physician, George Lerner, informed Judge Lewis Kaplan in an August letter that the former FTX CEO had a history of depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is one of the most frequent neurodevelopmental diseases in children.

“Additionally, there have been times when Mr. Bankman-Fried did not have access to the Emsam patch (typically when travelling/abroad) and exhibited symptoms of depression, including lethargy, anhedonia, low motivation, and increased ruminations,” Lerner said in the letter.

Lerner cautioned the judge that without his medicine, “Bankman-Fried will experience a return of his depression and ADHD symptoms and will be severely negatively impacted in his ability to assist in his own defense.”

During Bankman-Fried’s criminal trial last year, the defense team claimed that he did not have adequate access to prescription medicine, including Adderall, which treats attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. When initially remanded to custody, Bankman-Fried’s lawyers claimed that their client had a “limited” and “dwindling” supply of Emsam, a transdermal patch used to treat depression.

Maria Centrella, the mother of a 34-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, also wrote to Judge Kaplan about her experience parenting a kid on the autism spectrum.

“I have no opinion as to his guilt or innocence under the law, but do want to share with you my experiences with my son that hopefully might give you some pause to reflect on Sam’s behavior and mental state leading up to and during the trial,” wrote Centrella, who says that she was not familiar with Bankman-Fried’s story until she watched Michael Lewis’s “60 Minutes” interview, in which he shared anecdotes from shadowing Bankman-Fried as part of reporting a book about him.

“As he described Sam, I saw my son and wondered why Asperger’s was never mentioned in the segment, because those of us knowledgeable about it could see his behavior, mannerisms, and brilliance…” as enormous  Centrella wrote, “Indicators of his being on the spectrum.”

She went on to state that she contacted Bankman-Fried’s father, Joe, who confirmed Sam’s autism diagnosis and informed the court.

“I’m not sure how familiar you are with Asperger’s, especially among individuals who work and support themselves, but I can tell you from personal experience that those on the spectrum think differently. Though I’ve never met Sam, I’m convinced that, while he may be an MIT grad, he didn’t completely grasp what was going on and had no evil intent,” she wrote.

Matt Kelly, who has an autistic son and previously worked as a special needs teacher in the United Kingdom, sent a three-paragraph letter to offer his personal and professional thoughts that “might be of consideration when deciding a sentence.”

“Many of Sam’s personality traits suggest some type of atypical neurological processes; whether this is a tendency to avoid eye contact, a habit of being unable to focus on one thing at a time, or a lack of emotional response in a situation where most people would show outward signs of strain and distress,” Kelly wrote in an email.

“He has also witnessed his ex-partner and associates testify against him in court, and to a person with unusual processing, this may have been confusing and upsetting,” he said. “I hope that account is taken of Sam’s abnormal presentation in your sentencing, so that retribution is in proportion to the degree of fault, and that account is taken of which type of institution would be most appropriate in the case of someone like Sam.”

MIT roommate: He completed community laundry “on time”
Two of Bankman-Fried’s former friends and roommates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology provided character references on his behalf.

Daniel Grazian, who graduated in 2013, claims he knew Bankman-Fried “well” for three years.

“Sam was a kind friend and a wonderful person to be around,” Grazian stated in his letter to the court.

He goes on to state that Bankman-Fried “felt deeply for every living being, farm animals included” and that his portrayal of Sam as “being motivated by greed” was “completely inconsistent” with the Sam he knew.

“I feel that if Sam receives a light sentence, he will be a benefit to society. If the fact that I still limit my meat consumption for ethical reasons is any clue, Sam will continue to inspire people to be a little bit nicer and softer,” Grazian closes his letter.

Adam Hesterberg, a PhD classmate from 2018, had known Bankman-Fried before MIT, starting at a math camp back in 2007.

“In the time I knew him, Sam was responsible, pleasant to be around, and cared about doing good for the world,” Hesterberg wrote to the judge.

One example he gave was Bankman-Fried’s role in carrying out household tasks.

“Sam completed his fair share of tasks, which included washing the pots and dishes needed to make our meals and doing our kitchen laundry. He consistently performed effectively and on schedule; I only saw him late once, when a washing machine queue slowed the kitchen laundry,” the letter adds.

Hesterberg went on to describe other examples of Bankman-Fried’s good nature, such as wishing to “reduce farm animals’ suffering” and encouraging his classmates to give to charity causes like the Against Malaria Foundation.

“I don’t know to what extent a character reference from a decade ago should affect Sam’s sentencing, but to whatever extent it does, my impression of Sam was almost uniformly positive and is an argument for leniency in his sentence,” Hesterberg said.



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