When Stanford Law professor David Mills agreed to help represent FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried pro bono, he knew it would be an uphill battle. But in a startling interview with Bloomberg this week, Mills revealed he believes even Clarence Darrow couldn’t have won SBF’s case.
- Sam Bankman-Fried’s defense lawyer, David Mills, said SBF’s case was “almost impossible to win” due to pre-trial rulings and key witness testimonies against him
- Mills believes SBF is innocent because he didn’t intend to commit fraud, but said SBF did terribly under cross-examination
- Mills described SBF as “the worst person I’ve ever seen do a cross examination”
- Three other FTX executives – Caroline Ellison, Gary Wang, and Nishad Singh – all testified that SBF masterminded the scheme
- Mills worries his friendship with SBF’s parents, who are his colleagues, won’t survive after failing to exonerate their son
Just weeks after his headline-grabbing client was convicted of orchestrating a massive fraud scheme at the now-defunct crypto exchange FTX, Mills gave extraordinary candor about the obstacles he faced defending Bankman-Fried. He says that from the start, the verdict felt predetermined.
Several key factors stacked the deck overwhelmingly against SBF’s defense, Mills explained. First, pretrial evidentiary rulings by Judge Lewis Kaplan consistently favored the prosecution. But even more devastating was the barrage of incriminating testimony from three members of Bankman-Fried’s inner circle at FTX and his hedge fund Alameda Research.
Former Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison, FTX co-founder Gary Wang, and FTX’s head of engineering Nishad Singh all took the stand to finger SBF as the mastermind behind Alameda’s illegal siphoning of billions in FTX customer funds.
Their uniform testimony that Bankman-Fried directed the fraud made exoneration a near impossibility, Mills suggested. “Even if they’re all lying through their teeth, it’s really, really hard to win a case like that,” he said.
Yet despite his client’s conviction on 7 counts of conspiracy and fraud, Mills maintains that SBF is factually innocent. In the lawyer’s view, Bankman-Fried never formed criminal intent to defraud FTX users or investors. But convincing a jury of that once three former deputies implicated him was not viable, Mills admitted.
And Bankman-Fried certainly didn’t help his own cause when he took the witness stand, Mills added. He described SBF’s rambling, unfocused testimony under cross-examination as a disaster.
“He may be at the very top of the list as the worst person I’ve ever seen do a cross-examination,”
Mills told Bloomberg in a startlingly frank interview. He said even the judge seemed frustrated with SBF’s meandering non-answers.
With both the facts and optics working against them, Mills knewefault a guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion. Yet due to his long personal friendship with SBF’s high-profile academic parents, he felt obligated to mount some defense nonetheless.
Mills now worries that his failure to exonerate their son may irreparably damage his relationship with Bankman-Fried’s mother and father. “I’m concerned, when you believe in your child’s complete innocence, that you need to blame someone,” Mills told Bloomberg poignantly.
While Mills’ friends said they appreciated his support during their family’s “dark time,” the attorney himself isn’t so sure. If nothing else, his experience with the FTX debacle seems to have soured his interest in taking on any more hopeless cases.
“I’m not going to get myself emotionally involved on a very deep personal level in a case like this again,” Mills pledged. “I’m just not going to do it.”