A former top executive at a trading firm closely tied to FTX said she was “truly sorry” for defrauding customers, investors and lenders in pleading guilty to criminal charges stemming from the collapse of the cryptocurrency exchange last month.
“I knew that it was wrong,” Caroline Ellison, the former executive, told a federal judge in Manhattan on Monday in entering her guilty plea, according to a transcript of the hearing that was unsealed on Friday.
Ms. Ellison, 28, has agreed to help federal prosecutors build their case against Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of FTX and a co-founder of Alameda Research, the trading firm that Ms. Ellison had run.
Ms. Ellison made admissions that offered a glimpse into how she might be a powerful witness against Mr. Bankman-Fried. She said she went along with the decision of Mr. Bankman-Fried and others not to disclose the close relationship between FTX and Alameda, and the decision to divert billions in customer deposits at FTX to pay off loans of Alameda.
“I agreed with others to borrow several billion dollars from FTX to repay those loans,” Ms. Ellison told Judge Ronnie Abrams of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
What to Know About the Collapse of FTX
What is FTX? FTX is a now bankrupt company that was one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges. It enabled customers to trade digital currencies for other digital currencies or traditional money; it also had a native cryptocurrency known as FTT. The company, based in the Bahamas, built its business on risky trading options that are not legal in the United States.
Ms. Ellison said she wanted to apologize to FTX’s customers and investors and to Alameda’s lenders.
Mr. Bankman-Fried, 30, is facing multiple criminal charges stemming from what prosecutors said was a multiyear scheme that defrauded customers, investors and lenders. The authorities contend he orchestrated a scheme that misappropriated billions in customer deposits to fuel trading at Alameda, pay down loans, buy lavish real estate, lend money to FTX executives and make tens of millions in campaign contributions.
He was extradited from the Bahamas, where FTX was based, on Wednesday after his arrest there on Dec. 12. A federal magistrate judge in Manhattan approved Mr. Bankman-Fried’s release on Thursday after prosecutors and his legal team negotiated a restrictive bail package that requires him to be confined to his parents’ home in Northern California and to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.
On Wednesday night, as Mr. Bankman-Fried was being flown to the United States, Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Ms. Ellison and another former FTX executive, Zixiao Wang, who is known as Gary Wang, had both pleaded guilty to fraud charges and were cooperating with the government’s investigation into Mr. Bankman-Fried.
Mr. Wang also entered his plea on Monday, several hours before Ms. Ellison’s court appearance. Mr. Wang told Judge Abrams that he knew what he “was doing was wrong,” according to a transcript of the proceeding, which also was unsealed on Friday.
Late on Friday, Judge Abrams said she was recusing herself from any future involvement in the case because Davis Polk & Wardwell, the law firm where her husband is a partner, had done work for FTX in 2021. She said her husband had no involvement in the legal representation, but she was doing so to “avoid any possible conflict or the appearance of one.”
The Aftermath of FTX’s Downfall
The sudden collapse of the crypto exchange has left the industry stunned.
The transcripts of the Monday guilty pleas also show that prosecutors were concerned with what could happen if Mr. Bankman-Fried learned that his two former executives were pleading guilty and cooperating with the government before he consented to being extradited from the Bahamas.
That same Monday, Mr. Bankman-Fried was expected to be extradited and flown back to the United States. But in a court proceeding in the Bahamas, his lawyer there said his client was not yet ready to waive extradition.
Mr. Bankman-Fried was then returned to the Fox Hill prison in the Bahamas where he had been held.
The transcript of Ms. Ellison’s plea shows that by the time her hearing began at 4:30 p.m., Mr. Bankman-Fried was still in the Bahamas.
At the hearing, with uncertainty about when Mr. Bankman-Fried would leave the Bahamas, the government asked Judge Abrams to temporarily seal the transcript of Ms. Ellison’s plea and delay its public docketing.
“It was our expectation that he was going to consent to extradition today,” Danielle Sassoon, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the judge, adding, “There have been some hiccups in the Bahamian courtroom.”
Matthew Goldstein and Benjamin Weiser