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Jury selections begins for Sam Bankman-Fried, accused major financial fraud

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Sam Bankman-Fried's criminal trial got underway today with jury selection. Better known by his initials SBF, he's accused of orchestrating one of the largest financial frauds in history. FTX, the multibillion-dollar crypto company he founded, collapsed late last year. NPR's David Gura joins us now from outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in New York City. Hey, David.

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: So David, you've been at the courthouse. Tell us what the scene has been there and inside the courtroom today.

GURA: You know, we had these competing circuses in lower Manhattan today. There was this one, and then just around the corner, there was the circus surrounding the trial involving former President Trump. That ended up delaying Sam Bankman-Fried's arrival. When he did get to the courtroom, he was wearing a gray suit and tie. He had a haircut, which was striking 'cause this is someone whose trademark was an unkempt coif. SBF was not handcuffed. And when he sat down next to his lawyers, they presented him with a laptop he is allowed to use during the trial and when he's in the courtroom. And you could tell this was a huge deal for a guy who has spent so much of his life online. He's been in jail for more than a month now without access to a computer. And even though this one doesn't have access to the internet, he just lit up when he saw it. He was typing on it throughout the day's proceedings, Juana, as Judge Lewis Kaplan asked questions of dozens of prospective jurors.

SUMMERS: What kind of questions did you hear?

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GURA: Well, the judge nodded to Sam Bankman-Fried's notoriety. He asked prospective jurors if they were familiar with the case - several of them were. Then he turned to SBF and said, stand up and turn around so everyone can see you, and he did that. Then the judge asked if anyone had experience trading cryptocurrencies. Several prospective jurors said they'd lost money doing just that. He asked them if they'd seen an interview on "60 Minutes" on Sunday with the author Michael Lewis, who's written a biography of SBF. And at one point, the judge addressed the defendant directly. He wanted to make sure that SBF knows he has the right to testify, even if his lawyers advise him not to. Now, whether or not he'll do that remains an open question.

SUMMERS: Right. David, if you can, remind us of the allegations against SBF.

GURA: Yeah, he faces seven criminal counts. He's charged with wire fraud and securities fraud, also money laundering. Basically, he's accused of lying to customers and investors who poured billions of dollars into SBF's companies. And if he's found guilty here, Juana, SBF could spend the rest of his life in prison. He's accused of enriching himself with customer money, living large, buying multimillion-dollar real estate in the Bahamas. What's at the heart of the government's case is this allegation that Sam Bankman-Fried took FTX customers' money, used that money to plug this giant hole that opened up in the balance sheet at an investment fund he also started called Alameda Research. In separate bankruptcy proceedings, an effort is underway, Juana, to claw back $8 billion that disappeared.

SUMMERS: What can we expect to see in the weeks to come?

GURA: Yeah, this trial is expected to last for six weeks, which is on the longer side. It was identified as a hardship for a number of prospective jurors who said they couldn't be away from work that long. Today, the lead prosecutor read a list of involved parties, people who might come up in the case or testify. That list includes Bankman-Fried's parents, who were star professors at Stanford Law School. They're the subject of a separate civil suit, accusing them of enriching themselves at the expense of FTX customers. Four cooperating witnesses are also on that list. One of them is Caroline Ellison, who ran Alameda Research, that crypto hedge fund. Ellison is also Sam Bankman-Fried's ex-girlfriend. And we are expecting to hear from her, along with a number of FTX customers, as this trial unfolds.

SUMMERS: NPR's David Gura, as you can hear, outside the federal courthouse in New York City where Sam Bankman-Fried's criminal trial started today. David, thank you.

GURA: Thanks, Juana.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "TONE'S RAP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.