What's on Your Mind: SBF and FTX

Ram Ahluwalia, Justin Guilder, Tracy Wang, Zack Guzman

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Episode Description

Join Justin, & Ram, as they discuss the timing of the Bitcoin ETF, Ethereum ETF, and digital assets landscape.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Open. All right. How's everyone doing? Wow. Big news yesterday. I'm really excited to have Tracy Wing and Zach Guzman join Justin and I. Those of you, Justin, you might not know Justin's former trial litigator. He's also a lawyer. Don't let that fool you. Excited to have his perspective here too.

And Tracy was part of the team at Coindesk that broke the news around SBF. And these issues, sometime last year, now she's a freelance reporter and works with different trades, including Rolling Stone and Zach Guzman is the founder of Coinage. Now both of them were at the courthouse.

So there are a couple of topics we want to dig in today. There's so much analysis on SBF. I think actually taking it a different direction and talking about one, what is it like to be in the courtroom? Like when you get up in the morning, there's the main room, the overflow room, there's the defendant seating, plaintiff seating, and how does that work?

And then talking about reactions [00:01:00] and the media circus, key moments, like when the verdict was delivered, when certain people gave testimony, was there bated breath? Was there a sigh of relief? I think getting into the emotional angle around here could be really cathartic, and it's a perspective that I haven't seen many people talk about.

Tracy, why don't we, why don't we start with you? Where do you, where you would like to lead in terms of, the courtroom experience? All right, I'm sure Zach can also speak to this, but being a member of the press covering the SBF trial It's it's just wild. So there's only 21 seats in the courtroom allocated to press, and there's probably, I want to say, like 70 outlets that have been, interested in covering the trial.

And, you also got to throw in the individual influencers or people that do their own that run their own show. And, some days, if it's like a key testimony, like when SPF himself was about to testify, people lined up as [00:02:00] early as 11pm the evening before. There were some people that hired line sitters on TaskRabbit Which which was controversial and you basically wait for a spot and hope that you get into the 21 that lets you be in the main room.

And then, all of the trial is open to the public, so anybody who is interested in watching the court martials, they open up these overflow rooms with a live stream. So you can just, they open up I think even at peak demand, there was only two overflow rooms that were open. Open. And so basically anybody who wanted to drop by could drop by.

And I would talk to some of the people in the overflow rooms, and some of them range from other people that work in the crypto industry, a lot of the people were also lawyers that perhaps were representing other witnesses there were just like curious members of the public some people weren't even that into crypto, I was talking to this guy who like makes music, and he said, I [00:03:00] was just in New York City for the day, and I decided to pop in, and so it was really like, A island of misfit toys in terms of people watching the trial.

Tourist attraction. Zach, how about yourself? What's your pick there? Yeah, there was a trio of moms from the UK who added the SBF trial to their list of sightseeing to do while they were in New York, which I thought was pretty hilarious and just showed the draw. They didn't want to say whether or not they thought he was guilty, but they did say that they were going to brag to their sons about being in the courtroom, which they were in the overflow room.

So I guess we'll let them stretch the truth on that one. But no, Tracy's right. I think it was a gauntlet for press and journalists trying to cover this because not only did you have to get there super early, as she described, but you had to pay attention to everything. You couldn't miss any details.

So it was not only a test of how much sleep could you, Get away with, but also could your brain function on two hours of sleep? And I, maybe I was weaker than most, but I just gave up on the idea of waiting in line and was perfectly content with the overflow room for some of the days. But I [00:04:00] was there for when Caroline Ellison was testifying.

And yeah, it was a test of strength. It was a test of mental capacity and sleep in the end. I think mostly everybody was just happy that it was pretty quick relative to how long this could have taken. There were a few celebrity sightings. So Michael Lewis did appear in the courtroom for when Sam took the stand and everybody was like a little starstruck by Michael Lewis.

There was also Ben McKenzie, who is the OC actor who pivoted into being a crypto critic and wrote a book about it. He was also in the courtroom for many of the days. Yeah. Yeah. I think there was that. And I feel like The it got feisty at times. I do want to say, Tracy, I don't know if you had the same experience, but I feel like it got a little, sometimes people are trying to save seats in between the lunch break, so obviously if you're there super early, some people put like papers down on the stairs and they're like, don't steal my chair, and then, other times, Michael Lewis was there, and it's no, the guy's gonna, and I don't know, it got feisty sometimes in [00:05:00] there, but for the most part it was camaraderie, I think, among everybody.

Yeah. How did it get feisty, exactly? It was just physical space constraints or reactions to what was being presented or? So one, there was like a meta game in that there, that there's only 21 seats and more, there is more demand than supply. And so part of it is a guessing game, like nobody wanted to reveal what time they would show up.

Cause if I said, Hey, I'm thinking about showing up at three. Then someone's going to beat me to it and show up at 2. 59. And so it was part of this I know towards the later days, there was this kind of guessing game of when somebody like nobody wanted to reveal what time they wanted to show up and nobody wanted to publicly make a Statement about a time.

Cause that would anchor everybody else's opinions and they would go and beat that. So that was fun. It's like Shakespeare in the park in New York. And there was division among the journalists. Like some people were like line sitters, like that's not allowed. And also there were many different outlets out there.

And some [00:06:00] people just, some outlets just had more resources. There is also a press room on the fourth floor. So I know a lot of people have been following the trial via the Twitter account, inner city press. And so there are some type of outlets that if they are regular SDNY court reporters, they have a dedicated cubicle in this really sad looking press room on the fourth floor, so they're able to have computer access, but for everybody else, you have to check in your laptop and your phone when you walk into the courthouse, so you can't live tweet it, so that's why InterCity Press he gets to live tweet it, and also a lot of the legacy outlets say, AP, Reuters, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, I think the big name brands, that have regular court coverage, they have reporters that sit in the courtroom and can just get stuff out really fast.

That makes sense. That clarifies. Justin. Yeah. I think my first observation is, how beautiful is the American court system, right? We're just here talking [00:07:00] about press access and, overflow rooms. This is all public though, right? Like in some places, somebody who has committed these types of crimes.

Might not have the benefit of a public trial. Obviously it didn't go his way. I don't think it was ever going to go his way considering the facts, but I think it's an amazing feature of the American system that the press is invited in. This was open to the public and that this was something that everybody can see.

As you said, people just stopped in. It was not something that was closed off from the public. So I think that's an important observation that, maybe we're glossing over a little bit here. But then to hear some of your insights, I'd love to know what was the vibe like when some of the people who were in his inner circle, SPF's inner circle, came in and testified?

Because that's a highly emotional moment in any type of trial when the witnesses have a personal [00:08:00] relationship. With the defendant, and there was a lot of that, right? SBF is undone by that testimony, among other things, but what was that like? Could, was it palpable? Was there any kind of interpersonal interactions that They look at each other or was he avoiding any eye contact?

Yeah, Tracy, I don't know what you saw, but going into it, that was what was top of mind for me because I actually went to Sam's house before the trial began and chatted with him about where his mind was, and one of the big questions I had was why are you still doing this if you're going to be going up against three co conspirators, but, as we learned, there wasn't exactly a plea deal on the table.

For him to really consider anyways I was surprised to learn in our discussions when I was there that he really didn't have ill will, at least that's what he said, I found it hard to believe, towards his friends, in the case of Gary, he's known him for years, like a, basically a childhood friend, and the idea of, I guess he didn't really see it, I don't think, as like them turning on him so much as they were doing what was in their own best [00:09:00] interests.

And people always talk about who the real Sam is. I don't know. I feel the more I've gotten to know him, the more it is true that he's very much calculating all kinds of things at all times and really removes emotions from a lot of those decisions. And so the sense that I had going into it was that he really didn't hold those types of grudges against people doing what was in their best interests.

And in the courtroom, I couldn't really get a sense. of if any of that had changed when they were up on the stand, because he's facing them and when I was in the courtroom for the Caroline Ellison testimony, I didn't really get a sense of, any of that, even when they were asking, by the way, about their past sex lives, right?

That came up in the trial. There wasn't too much to go off of in the room. I did see, Sam's mom was obviously for most of the trial, her head was almost always in her hands. And that was even true before he went to jail in those hearings. So Tracy, I don't know if you had anything else on that but to me, it felt, Almost, passionless in a sense.

It's really hard to read Sam, because first off he doesn't express emotion at all. He has [00:10:00] told Michael Lewis he does not feel emotion. And I do think he did want to, he was very upset that his friends pleaded guilty and testified against him. The fact that he, over the summer, leaked Caroline and his private, documents to the New York Times was really a spite move to smear your ex.

I I think it backfired on him, because ultimately she came off as super sympathetic, and the jury was, like, nine women, three men, and so I, I don't know if it really worked out for him, but I do think he was very upset at And his former friends for pleading guilty. The other thing about the whole co conspirators testifying was Sam was always the public face of FTX.

After nobody really even knew who the other people were. They were very limited, Media interviews, and nobody even had any pictures of them, of Gary Wang, and so for the first time ever, it was like, oh my gosh now we know what Gary Wang sounds like [00:11:00] and I would say there was a lot of anticipation for just Seeing who these people were in person, nobody knew even what Gary looks like, or what Nishad looked like.

And somebody next to me, I was in the room for the Caroline testimony, and when a new witness walks in they walk in from, behind the rows, and think of The courthouse is like a church chapel, and this person was like, this is like a strange wedding, isn't it? We're all sitting in these rows, and then when a new witness walks in, we're all like walking, we're all looking behind, and Caroline just walking down the aisle to the witness stand, and it's just this is a perverted wedding and Gary did say that, I think Gary and Ashad were, Gary was very like, he's also emotionless, I think he said that he wanted to be the first one to get a plea deal in case there was no other, there were no plea deals left to offer, and Ashad only pled guilty much later in February, and there was actually an [00:12:00] exhibit where Sam, in December, he writes out this Google note, like, why hasn't Nishan pled guilty yet?

And I think Caroline, he really did, since she was more important than the other two witnesses as CEO of Alameda, I think he really did try to smear her. Except in a court setting you have to realize that in a court setting, everything is very controlled. You can't, if you're on the witness stand, you can't even.