Federal prosecutors Wednesday night announced Caroline Ellison and Zixiao "Gary" Wang have pleaded guilty to their roles in a scheme that led to the collapse of FTX. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Two associates of FTX founder Samuel Bankman-Fried have pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges accusing them of contributing to the collapse of the crypto currency exchange that cost customers billions of dollars, federal prosecutors said Wednesday night.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York announced the charges against former Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison, 28, and FTX co-founder Zixiao "Gary" Wang, 29, in a video statement, stating both have entered guilty pleas and were cooperating with federal prosecutors.
Bankman-Fried, who was arrested last week in the Bahamas, was also now in FBI custody, Williams announced, and was en route to the United States, where on arrival he will be transported to the Southern District of New York and appear before a judge "as soon as possible."
"As I said last week this investigation is very much ongoing and it's moving very quickly. I also said that last week's announcement would not be our last, and let me be clear once again, neither is today's," he said.
The Justice Department has filed eight charges against Bankman-Fried, 30, over last's months collapse of FTX, one of the world's largest crypto currency exchanges, resulting in customers losing billions of dollars.
The indictment accuses Bankman-Fried, who claims innocence, of perpetrating a wide-ranging fraud scheme with co-conspirators to misappropriate billions of their customers' dollars that were deposited with the crypto currency exchange.
The charging document states that the scheme began as far back as 2019, and Bankman-Fried used the funds defrauded from his customers for personal use, investments, political contributions and debts owned by Alameda Research, a crypto asset hedge fund he founded with Wang and which Ellison ran as its chief executive from August until mid-November.
"Let me reiterate a call I made last week: If you participated in misconduct at FTX or Alameda, now is the time to get ahead of it," Williams warned Wednesday night. "We are moving quickly and are patience is not eternal."
The specifics of the federal criminal charges against Ellison and Wang as well as the conditions of their plea agreements were not immediately available to the public, but both the Security and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Wednesday separately announced charges against the pair that detail aspects of the case.
The SEC charges state Ellison directed Alameda to use billions of FTX dollars to trade on other exchanges to fund high-risk digital asset industry investments, and that Wang had created code underlying the FTX trading platform that allowed Alameda to have an essentially unlimited line of credit with the currency exchange.
It also accuses Ellison, under the direction of Bankman-Fried, of manipulating the price of FTT, an FTX crypto security token, by purchasing large quantities of it on the open market.
The regulator adds that the token served as collateral for undisclosed loans by FTX of its customers' assets to Alameda, and that by manipulating FTT's value Bankman-Fried and Ellison inflated the valuation of Alameda's FTT holdings, causing the the crypto hedge fund's value of collateral to be overstated, misleading investors about FTX's risk exposure.
"Ellison and Wang were active participants in the scheme to deceive FTX's investors and engaged in conduct that was critical to its success," the SEC said in a statement.
SEC officials further accuse Bankman-Friend of raising billions of dollars from investors by advertising FTX as a safe currency exchange that has risk mitigation measures and by describing Alameda as just another customer.
"When FTT and the rest of the house of cards collapsed, Mr. Bankman-Fried, Ms. Ellison and Mr. Wang left investors holding the bag," SEC chair Gary Gensler said in a statement. "Until crypto platforms comply with time-tested securities laws, risks to investors will persist. It remains a priority of the SEC to use all our available tools to bring the industry into compliance."