By Kara Scannell and Matt Egan, CNN
Two senior executives associated with collapsed crypto exchange FTX have pleaded guilty to multiple criminal charges and are cooperating with federal prosecutors, according to unsealed court records. Additionally, the pair face civil fraud charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission that were announced Wednesday night.
Gary Wang, the co-founder of FTX, and Caroline Ellison, who served as CEO of the hedge fund Alameda Research, pleaded guilty to multiple counts of conspiracy and fraud for their roles in the fraud scheme that led to the collapse of the crypto-trading platform.
Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the charges in a video message Wednesday night. In a brief statement, he reiterated that the investigation is still ongoing, noting specifically that these new charges in the case are not the last.
Ilan Graff, an attorney for Wang, said: “Gary has accepted responsibility for his actions and takes seriously his obligations as a cooperating witness.” Wang has already appeared in court for his guilty plea.
Ellison’s attorneys could not be immediately reached for comment.
The charges were unsealed as Sam Bankman-Fried was enroute to the United States from the Bahamas, where he was arrested last week on an eight-count indictment for what Williams called one of the largest financial frauds in American history. Bankman-Fried waived his right to contest extradition on Wednesday and boarded a plane for the United States in the early evening.
Bankman-Fried is expected to appear before a judge in Manhattan on Thursday. Prosecutors and his attorneys have been in discussions about a bail package that would allow him to avoid detention, people familiar with the matter told CNN.
Wang cofounded FTX with Bankman-Fried in 2019 and also worked with him at his hedge fund Alameda Research. Ellison became CEO of Alameda in October 2021, according to court filings.
Prosecutors allege Bankman-Fried engaged in multiple fraudulent schemes. Among them, they allege that Bankman-Fried stole money from FTX customers to support Alameda, made investments in other companies, bought luxury real estate and donated tens of millions of dollars to political campaigns.
In letters dated Sunday, December 18, and signed the following day, Ellison and Wang agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors.
Ellison is pleading guilty to seven counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit commodities fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She is charged with the same crimes as Bankman-Fried, except for the campaign finance charges.
Wang has agreed to plead guilty to four counts: wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit commodities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud.
“As I said last week this investigation is very much ongoing and it’s moving very quickly,” Williams said. “I also said last week’s announcement would not be our last and let me be clear, once again, neither is today’s.”
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Federal regulators also charged Ellison and Wang with playing starring roles in a years-long scheme to defraud FTX investors.
The Securities and Exchange Commission allege that Ellison and Wang actively participated in a “scheme to defraud” the investors. Between 2019 and 2022, Ellison manipulated the price of FTT, FTX’s security token, “at the direction of” Bankman-Fried, regulators alleged. The SEC said this manipulation was conducted by purchasing large quantities of FTT on the open market to prop up its price.
Regulators say this alleged manipulation inflated the holdings of Alameda, overstated the hedge fund’s balance sheet and “misled” investors about FTX’s risk exposure.
“When FTT and the rest of the house of cards collapsed, Mr. Bankman-Fried, Ms. Ellison, and Mr. Wang left investors holding the bag,” SEC Chairman Gary Gensler said in a statement.
Wang created FTX’s source code that allowed Alameda to divert FTX customer funds and Ellison used misappropriated funds for the hedge fund’s trading activity, according to the SEC.
“Ellison and Wang were active participants in the scheme to deceive FTX’s investors and engaged in conduct that was critical to its success,” the SEC said in a release.
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