How Did Sam Bankman-Fried Make His $250 Million Bail?

Though Mr. Bankman-Fried was not required to pay $250 million, the large amount of the bond in this high-profile case has raised questions about the federal bail process.

The release this week of Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced cryptocurrency executive, from federal custody on a $250 million bond has raised questions about the federal bail process and why such a high-profile defendant was allowed to go free.

The bond essentially amounts to a promise to appear in court when required; it does not compel Bankman-Fried, who is charged with numerous crimes related to his handling of the cryptocurrency exchange he founded, to pay $250 million.

No money has changed hands and none will unless Bankman-Fried fails to show up for court or is found to have violated other conditions set by the judge.

In that case, his parents’ house in Palo Alto, California, which was used to secure the bond, could be seized by the government. The four people who are to co-sign the bond, including one nonfamily member, would be on the hook for the rest of the $250 million.

Two of those people are Bankman-Fried’s parents, Stanford University law professors who supported their son in promoting his exchange, FTX. It is not known who the other two co-signers are.

A spokesperson for Bankman-Fried declined to comment.

How is it possible that such a high-profile defendant was released without having to pay any money?

Bankman-Fried was in the Bahamas when he was charged, and extradition can be a highly complicated process, leading to a lengthy legal battle. In court in New York on Thursday, a prosecutor, Nicolas Roos, said that had Bankman-Fried not consented to extradition, it was “a near certainty” that the government would have sought his detention.

Sabrina Shroff, a former federal defender, said: “My guess is that this was an agreed-upon bail package before he ever left the Bahamas. Extradition from the Bahamas is difficult, and the defendant may have had ample opportunity to challenge extradition, which could have dragged out for years.”

$250 million seems like a really high number. Is it?

Yes. It is highly unusual for such a large bond to be set.

Bernie Madoff received a $10 million bail agreement in 2008, while Billy McFarland, the entrepreneur who created the disastrous Fyre Festival, was released on $300,000 bail. Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a friend of Donald Trump’s who was charged — and eventually acquitted — with illegally lobbying the United States on behalf of leaders in the United Arab Emirates, is one of few defendants in recent memory whose bail amount was as high as Bankman-Fried’s.

But if the crypto executive abides by the terms set by the court, the amount is largely symbolic.

Those terms are manifold and include:

— Bankman-Fried must surrender his travel documents and stay at his parents’ house.

— He must not open new lines of credit or start another business.

— He may not enter into any financial transactions of more than $1,000, except to pay his legal fees.

— He agrees to be monitored electronically.

The value of his parents’ house has either already been assessed or is now likely to be, and a lien on the house must be posted by Jan. 12.

Bankman-Fried’s parents have also been under scrutiny for their relationships to FTX. His father, Joseph Bankman, a tax expert, actually worked for the company while his mother, Barbara Fried, counted her son among the donors within a political advocacy network she orchestrated.

What does this have to do with New York’s bail law?

Absolutely nothing.

New York’s bail law, which was passed in 2019 so that defendants accused of certain low-level crimes would not be required to pay cash bail, has been the subject of considerable controversy. But Bankman-Fried’s case is federal, so he is not subject to that law.

Defense lawyers observing the case said there was, however, one point of commonality between the spirit of that law — which in part sought to prevent bail from being used to detain defendants unnecessarily — and the release of Bankman-Fried. Shroff said that the presumption of innocence was embedded in the Federal Bail Reform Act of 1966, which governs bail law.

Bankman-Fried “should get bail,” she said. “In fact, most people facing federal criminal charges should have the opportunity to fight their charges from outside. Detention serves to break the spirit and strength of clients, and that is not the purpose of the bail act.”