By Chris Prentice and Alison Frankel
NEW YORK (Reuters) -FTX founder and former chief executive Sam Bankman-Fried and Caroline Ellison, head of its now-defunct trading affiliate, have tapped defense attorneys as U.S. authorities probe the crypto exchange’s collapse, according to a spokesperson for Bankman-Fried and a source familiar with Ellison’s selection.
Bankman-Fried has retained Mark S. Cohen, of Cohen & Gresser, Bankman-Fried’s spokesperson Mark Botnick said in an emailed statement. Cohen could not be reached for comment.
Ellison, who ran trading firm Alameda Research, has hired Washington-based law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr to represent her, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. Neither Ellison nor spokespeople for the firm responded to requests for comment.
Regulators around the globe, including in the Bahamas where FTX is based and in the United States, are investigating the role of FTX’s top executives including Bankman-Fried in the firm’s stunning collapse, Reuters has previously reported. The crypto exchange filed for bankruptcy last month after a liquidity crisis that saw at least $1 billion of customer funds vanish.
Prosecutors and regulators have not charged Bankman-Fried or Ellison with a crime. They face civil lawsuits from FTX customers.
David Mills, a professor at Stanford Law School, is consulting on the matter for Bankman-Fried, Botnick said. Mills did not respond to requests for comment. Semafor previously reported Mills’ advisory work for Bankman-Fried.
Cohen, a former assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, recently defended Ghislaine Maxwell in her sex trafficking trial.
Bankman-Fried had previously hired Martin Flumenbaum of law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, but the law firm said last month it was no longer representing him due to conflicts.
A widely-followed Twitter account previously named WilmerHale as Ellison’s counsel.
In recent weeks, U.S. authorities have sought information from investors and potential investors in FTX, according to two sources with knowledge of the requests. Federal prosecutors in New York are asking for details on any communications such firms have had with the crypto firm and its executives, including Bankman-Fried, the sources said. Bloomberg previously reported the information requests.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has been asking for similar information from investors as well, one of the sources said.
Those sources and attorneys, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said that U.S. authorities are likely looking for any evidence of material misrepresentations of information to investors.
Spokespeople for the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office and the SEC declined to comment on the information request.
FTX secretly transferred customer funds to its affiliate Alameda Research to fill a shortfall at the crypto trading firm, Reuters has previously reported. The Wall Street Journal has previously reported that Ellison and senior FTX officials knew the crypto exchange had dipped into its customer funds to help Alameda meet liabilities.
Speaking via video link at the New York Times’ Dealbook Summit with Andrew Ross Sorkin on Wednesday, Bankman-Fried said he did not knowingly commingle customer funds on FTX with funds at his proprietary trading firm, Alameda Research.
“I didn’t ever try to commit fraud,” Bankman-Fried said, adding that he does not think he has any criminal liability.
(Additional reporting by John McCrank in New York and Jenna Greene in San Francisco; Editing by Megan Davies, Noeleen Walder, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)