To some, Sam Bankman-Fried is the next Bernie Madoff, the top of one of the largest and most destructive Ponzi schemes in modern history. Or maybe he's more like Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced former Theranos founder . SBF, as he's known, swears it's all a massive screwup.
Bankman-Fried spoke for the first time on Wednesday in a live interview since his cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, declared bankruptcy. He did so by video link from his home base in the Bahamas to the New York Times DealBook Summit, where he was grilled for over an hour on the details of his financial dealings and mismanagement of customer funds and on whether he lied both in the past and during the interview.
DealBook founder Andrew Ross Sorkin said SBF agreed to the interview where "nothing is off limits," even though he is no longer the CEO of FTX and is currently at the center of multiple investigations.
"What are your lawyers telling you right now? Are they suggesting this is a good idea for you to be speaking?" Sorkin asked at one point.
"No. They are very much not," SBF responded.
Here are some of the most important things we learned from SBF's interview:
He had a "bad month"
In his bid for understatement of the year, the former billionaire acknowledged the impact his mismanagement as CEO of FTX has had on his customers and the crypto industry as a whole. FTX had been the world's second-biggest crypto exchange until Nov. 2, when details about his financial empire.
All told, Alameda Research, SBF's investment firm, was found to be $8 billion in debt. Worse, some FTX customer funds appear to have been mixed in with Alameda's bad bets.
For his part, Bankman-Fried contended that FTX.US and FTX Japan, two companies that operate in different regulatory frameworks than other FTX subsidiaries, should be able to permit customer withdrawals. Still, SBF said, that doesn't diminish the enormous mistakes he made.
"Look, I screwed up. I was the CEO of FTX, that means I was responsible," he said. "We messed up big."
Bankman-Fried says he's worth "close to nothing," insisting he has no "hidden funds." "I think I have one working credit card left, it might be $100,000 or something like that in that bank account," he claimed. "Everything I had, even all the loans I had, those were things I was reinvesting. I put everything I had in FTX."
He denied knowingly committing fraud
Hanging over the entire interview was SBF's potential criminal liability, similar to Madoff and Holmes. He repeated his seemingly well-rehearsed lines that he screwed up and that he was responsible as CEO, but, he insisted, "I did not ever try to commit fraud on anyone."
He swears he's telling the truth
Before FTX filed for bankruptcy, Bankman-Fried sent out a tweet attempting to reassure customers that everything was OK. When The New York Times' Sorkin attempted to walk SBF through a timeline of what happened, he asked whether SBF had been lying in that tweet. He also asked if SBF had lied in the interview.
"I don't know of times when I lied," Bankman-Fried responded, adding he "was as truthful as I'm knowledgeable to be."
He claims political donations were to both parties
As people have attempted to understand what happened to Bankman-Fried, FTX and all that money, one thing people have seized upon are his political donations. SBF was the second-largest donor to the Democratic party during the last election cycle, according to data compiled by OpenSecrets, raising questions about whether he'd bought influence in Washington, D.C.
Bankman-Fried in earlier interviews contended that he donated to both parties, but chose to donate to Republicans through "dark money" organizations that aren't required to disclose who funds their activities.
In Wednesday's interview, he said he donated to "candidates who are outspoken in favor of doing things now to prevent the next pandemic." He said many of his contributions were during primaries, and on both sides of the aisle.
"I wasn't viewing it as a partisan exercise," he said. " It was not, you know, this was not looking at donating to one party to beat the other one in the general elections here."