Sam Bankman-Fried’s judge is a no-nonsense 78-year-old veteran with 3 decades on the bench known for getting irritable

December 27, 2022, 6:47 PM UTC
Sam Bankman-Fried
Sam Bankman-Fried, co-founder of FTX Cryptocurrency Derivatives Exchange, departs from court in New York, US, on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022.
Stephanie Keith/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Manhattan federal judge known for swift decisions and a no-nonsense demeanor during three decades of overseeing numerous high-profile cases was assigned Tuesday to Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency case.

The case was relegated to Judge Lewis A. Kaplan after the judge originally assigned recused herself because her husband worked for a law firm that had done work related to Bankman-Fried’s collapsed crypto exchange FTX.

Bankman-Fried, arrested in the Bahamas two weeks ago, was brought to the United States last week to face charges that he cheated investors and looted customer deposits on his FTX trading platform.

On Thursday, he was freed on a $250 million personal recognizance bond to live with his parents in Palo Alto, California, after an electronic monitoring bracelet was attached to him so authorities could track his whereabouts.

Kaplan, 78, who has held senior status in Manhattan federal court for over a decade, was nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Since then, he has overseen numerous high-profile trials and several cases notable in the financial world, including what authorities had described as the first federal bitcoin securities fraud prosecution. Kaplan sentenced the defendant to 18 months in prison.

In 2014, he blocked U.S. courts from being used to collect a $9 billion Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron for rainforest damage, saying lawyers in the case had poisoned an honorable quest with illegal and wrongful conduct.

And in 2012, he delayed his acceptance of a guilty plea by a Utah banker, ordering prosecutors to explain in writing why they were letting the banker plead guilty to a misdemeanor bank gambling charge rather than a felony.

Kaplan has been known over the years to become irritable with lawyers on all sides.

In 1997, he blasted the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, as the government’s immigration department was once known, for not acting fast enough in an asylum case.

“This is about as expedited as a glacier going uphill,” he snapped.

Calling the agency’s behavior “absolutely outrageous,” he added: “The INS has in the three years I’ve been on the bench acquitted itself in disastrous fashion more than once, but this one takes the cake and I’m not going to stand for it much longer.”

In 2000, he ruled in favor of the motion picture industry, giving them legal protection to protect DVDs from being copied on computers.

“Computer code is not purely expressive any more than the assassination of a political figure is purely a political statement,″ he said.

Most recently, Kaplan presided over the fall civil trial of Kevin Spacey after a fellow actor accused him of trying to molest him in his apartment after a party when he was 14 and Spacey was 26. A jury sided with Spacey, finding that actor Anthony Rapp had not proved his case against him.

Kaplan currently is presiding over a civil case brought by former Elle magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll against ex-President Donald Trump. Carroll said Trump raped her in the dressing room of a Manhattan luxury department store in 1995 or 1996. Trump has denied the accusations. A trial is scheduled for April.

The storied judge also was presiding over sex abuse claims by an American woman against Britain’s Prince Andrew before the two sides settled earlier this year, with Andrew declaring that he never meant to malign her character and agreeing to donate to the woman’s charity. Prior to the settlement, Kaplan had refused Andrew’s request to toss the lawsuit.

In 2019, Kaplan sentenced three men to prison after they were convicted in a college basketball scandal in which a former Adidas executive and two others paid families to persuade top college basketball recruits to play for schools sponsored by the shoemaker.

Nearly a dozen years ago, Kaplan sentenced Ahmed Ghailani, a onetime Guantanamo Bay detainee, to life in prison after presiding over a trial in which Ghailani was convicted of conspiring to destroy American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. A dozen Americans were among 224 people killed in the attacks.

And in 2015, the judge sentenced Adel Abdul Bary, an Egyptian lawyer, to 25 years in prison for his role in the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa.

In 2014, Kaplan sentenced Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, to life in prison for serving as al-Qaida’s mouthpiece after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Kaplan also has presided over sentence reduction efforts by men convicted in the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people and injured more than 1,000.

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