The S.B.F. Chronicles, Part 5: The Mysteries of Stanford

sam bankman-fried
How are S.B.F. and his Stanford Law School professor parents, Joe Bankman and Barbara Fried, paying for his costly legal defense? Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
January 18, 2023

Last Friday, January 13, the ever-verbose Sam Bankman-Fried dropped his now famous Substack manifesto, the latest in his media rumblings since FTX went kaput and the world’s formerly richest 30-year-old found his name regularly mentioned, fairly or not, in the same sentence as Bernie Madoff. The manifesto contained plenty of familiar S.B.F. tropes. For instance, he reiterated his thesis that the collapse of FTX was the result of mistakes but not crimes, that he “didn’t steal funds” and “certainly didn’t stash billions away.” In that latest diatribe, S.B.F. said that not only was FTX U.S. “fully solvent” but also that FTX International—now in bankruptcy—“has many billions of dollars of assets,” and that he was “dedicating nearly all of [his] personal assets to customers.” (He re-reiterated the same points, with a few spreadsheets, on Twitter earlier this week.) 

But the Substack post also contained some tantalizing clues as to what may really be going on in S.B.F. land these days. To wit, S.B.F. wrote that he had offered to pledge “nearly all of [his] personal shares” in Robinhood, the online brokerage, to FTX customers but would contribute even more—100 percent of those shares—if, and this is the interesting part, “the Chapter 11 team would honor my D&O legal expense indemnification.” In other words, it appears S.B.F. is virtually on his own when it comes to paying his legal bills. 

No wonder he wants to get his hands on those Robinhood shares. S.B.F. bought the shares in Robinhood in May 2022 via a loan he received from Alameda Research. (According to bankruptcy court filings, S.B.F. received a $1 billion loan from Alameda that has not been repaid and may never be.) His Robinhood shares are still worth roughly $450 million. But in December, John Ray III, the C.E.O. of the bankrupt FTX/Alameda estate, filed a motion to freeze that asset, among others, for the benefit of the estate and its creditors. S.B.F. countered with a motion suggesting he needed the money to pay his legal bills, among other things. The Substack post is just the latest entreaty.