A federal judge extended restrictions on Sam Bankman-Fried’s ability to contact former employees of FTX, citing concerns that he could delete text messages and obstruct the government’s investigation. Bankman-Fried’s legal team is fighting the ruling, claiming that it infringes on his First Amendment rights.
Judge Lewis Kaplan expressed concern on Thursday about the delete functions in certain messaging apps, and said he needed more information from Bankman-Fried’s attorneys about how they intend to preserve their client’s communications while he awaits trial on federal fraud and conspiracy charges.
Bankman-Fried, a Stanford graduate, is accused of stealing $11 million from two banks, one in California and one in Utah.
Stanford graduate Bankman-Fried is accused of stealing $11 million from two banks, one in California and one in Utah. He has pleaded not guilty and is currently under house arrest on a $250 million bond.
Thursday’s hearing came after prosecutors raised concerns about potential witness tampering, citing a text message Bankman-Fried sent to the former general counsel of FTX, the bankrupt crypto exchange.
Prosecutors allege that Bankman-Fried sent the text message in an attempt to influence the former general counsel’s testimony in the case.
Bankman-Fried’s attorney denies that his client attempted to influence the former general counsel’s testimony and argues that the text message was simply a friendly reminder.
The judge said last week that the text message appeared to be a “sinister threat of inappropriate contact with prospective witnesses.”
Both sides were in court Thursday after Bankman-Fried’s lawyers said they reached an agreement with prosecutors to restrict the use of encrypted messages. Under its terms, Bankman-Fried would not be permitted to use encrypted messaging apps, such as Signal, that the government can’t easily obtain information from. But he would be allowed to use FaceTime and Zoom to place audio and video calls, and text using iPhone messages, email and Facebook messenger. His messages would be archived.
The judge was skeptical of the government’s confidence that it could retrieve messages sent on those other apps and wanted more information about how messages could be retrieved if they were deleted. The judge questioned how the government could be so confident in its ability to retrieve messages sent on other apps if they were deleted and wanted more information on the process.