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Editor’s note: this article has been updated to note that the bail modification requests were rejected by the judge.
A federal judge has rejected a request from Sam Bankman-Fried's attorneys to allow the former FTX CEO to communicate electronically again after being barred from doing so in January. The request came in a letter sent to District Court Southern District of New York Judge Lewis A. Kaplan after prosecutors alleged Bankman-Fried may have engaged in witness tampering.
“The letter motion is denied without prejudice pending oral argument, which remains scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on February 9, 2023,” Judge Kaplan wrote in response.
The judge had rejected changes to Bankman-Fried's bail arrangements that were jointly developed by his attorneys and federal prosecutors.
In exchange for allowing Bankman-Fried to have supervised communication, his attorneys said they would not fight a separate order barring him from transferring assets related to FTX and Alameda Research.
Federal prosecutors said in a four-page filing that the former billionaire, who is currently facing life in prison on charges of fraud and conspiracy, tried to contact Ryne Miller, general counsel for FTX US, through the Signal encrypted messaging app last month.
“I would really love to reconnect and see if there’s a way for us to have a constructive relationship, use each other as resources when possible, or at least vet things with each other,” U.S. prosecutors allege Bankman-Fried wrote.
Bankman-Fried’s lawyers, Mark S. Cohen and Christian R. Everdell, sought Kaplan’s approval to modify Bankman-Fried’s bail conditions after the government exempted specific individuals from the proposed no-contact condition.
Bankman-Fried’s attorney asked that Bankman-Fried be allowed to use FaceTime, iMessage, Zoom, SMS texts, email, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp, provided the communications can be reviewed.
In the letter, the agreement between the prosecution and defense asked Judge Kaplan to permit Bankman-Fried’s use of WhatsApp if monitoring technology is installed on his cellphone that automatically logs and preserves all WhatsApp communications.
In the original order barring Bankman-Fried’s use of messaging apps, Bankman-Fried was explicitly ordered not to use any encrypted or “ephemeral” call or messaging application, including but not limited to Signal.
Ephemeral messaging applications allow users to set a time limit on how long a message stays on the app. Signal, for example, enables custom time limits, including 30 seconds to four weeks. While the feature can be used for nefarious purposes, these features are also used by journalists and activists to communicate while limiting the chance rogue governments can intercept their communications.
On December 12, 2022, Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas and extradited to the United States a week later. The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Bankman-Fried with eight counts of money laundering, fraud, and conspiracy.