The first thing that I noticed when Sam Bankman-Fried greeted me in the doorway of his family home, just off the Stanford campus, was the 75-pound German shepherd by his side named Sandor, a Hungarian spin on a name meaning “defender of men.” Sam seemed hazy on how exactly Sandor had gotten there—the dog had “just shown up” in his retelling, a gift over the last few days from his parents. But he was certainly a young man in need of both defense and a friend. After all, the second thing I noticed about Sam was, naturally, the G.P.S. monitor strapped tightly to his left ankle.
The fabric-and-battery contraption is a physical reminder, lest anyone forget, that S.B.F. is under house arrest as he awaits trial in October, facing eight counts of what prosecutors have called “one of the biggest financial frauds in American history.” After his first U.S. court hearing last month, he flew back to Northern California, where he has been living in a strange fugue state—between a billionaire and prisoner, a celebrated business celebrity and financial villain. Now his movements are circumscribed by law. He can step onto the thin porch outside the living room, but he isn’t sure he can walk much further—not that he has tested it, he assured me. He takes care to ensure his ankle monitor is fully charged, with its neon green light blinking every few seconds. “It’ll start barking at me if it gets low on battery,” he said.
Otherwise barefoot and wearing a plain red t-shirt and gray shorts, with his hair as disheveled as ever, S.B.F. and I shook hands as he welcomed me inside his parents’ ranch-style house. It was Friday night, and he seemed genuinely excited for the company. He and Sandor led me through the first floor of the home, past an activity room where Sam’s two chess sets and two gaming monitors sat center stage amid new Amazon packages, and then through the open kitchen, as we negotiated the best place for us to sit down and chat. His voice was startlingly unaffected; he offered me something to drink as if we were there for a playdate, as if nothing of consequence had recently transpired. Meanwhile, the house was totally silent. No one else appeared to be there: no lawyer or P.R. chaperone hiding around the corner, no aggrieved parents with a glass to the wall, listening in for some sort of confessional or obfuscation, perhaps to find out how their eldest son had brought them shame, blemished their careers, and unleashed the sort of havoc that will take years, if not decades, to unspool. It took me about 10 minutes to confirm with myself that this meeting was really happening.