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Sam He Is: An Exclusive Prison Chat With S.B.F.

Sam Bankman-Fried
I got the distinct impression that Sam still doesn’t believe he committed any crimes, only that he was the one responsible for putting FTX in a position where it was vulnerable to a bank run and the devious actions of its competitors. Photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
May 9, 2024

On Tuesday afternoon, I found myself in the most unusual circumstances—sitting on a small plastic chair at a cramped table in the Metropolitan Detention Center, the federal prison on 29th Street in Sunset Park, in Deep Brooklyn. Outside, it was a gorgeous day, the sort of picturesque and slightly humid one that inevitably reminds longtime New Yorkers of the weather on the morning of September 11th. Inside the prison’s visiting room, however, there was no natural light, no sunshine, only the Hitchcockian buzz of fluorescent bulbs and three vending machines standing in a corner. Posters on the wall attempted to compensate for the bleak atmosphere by buoyantly welcoming visiting families. 

I first met Sam Bankman-Fried in December 2021, during the height of his power and influence, when he was the richest person in the world under 30. My friend Anthony Scaramucci, a.k.a. The Mooch, had connected us. On a cold winter night at the One Hotel, on Sixth Avenue, I interviewed him for a documentary I am part of making about Bitcoin and its developer, Satoshi Nakamato. Sam showed up an hour late, in a black t-shirt and cargo shorts, apparently having just flown in via private jet from the Bahamas. A month later, Sam’s cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, would raise its final $400 million round of financing from a group of highfalutin investors—led by Softbank, Temasek, and Paradigm—at a valuation of $32 billion, making the company one of the most valuable in the sector. At that moment, Sam was said to be worth $26 billion.