As Sam Bankman-Fried’s Legal Chances Dwindle, Even His Travel Is Being Downgraded

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s legal chances are dwindling as he faces charges over billions of dollars in fraud. He’s no longer flying private. He’s no longer even flying lie flat business class from San Francisco back to court hearings in New York. He doesn’t even get to fly into JFK airport.

SBF’s travel has taken a huge hit as the case continues: he flew an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 with domestic seats to his court hearing this past week.

Sam Bankman-Fried competes for the most money lost in history. It all comes down to ‘how you count’. Elon Musk’s net worth fell more than anyone else’s, ever, when the value of Tesla shares declined. But he didn’t recognize that loss. He still owned exactly the same thing as before.

But ‘SBF’ had a fortune estimated at $20 billion to $30 billion, and that has evaporated entirely. What funds he has remaining under his own control won’t last – either because it will be clawed away in bankruptcy court, or because it will ultimately be lost to civil suits or fines.

His legal prospects for escaping prison after the collapse of FTX, having lost billions of dollars of customer money and used resources to buy stadium naming rights, television commercials, and celebrity endorsements, are dimming.

Bankman-Fried claims that he was simply naive. He didn’t hedge risk well, failing to recognize that the risks he was undertaking were all correlated. He didn’t spend enough time thinking about risk. In other words, his defense is that he managed his company poorly and lost money but didn’t commit crimes.


  • Not thinking about risk is actually a crime in this context, since he marketed FTX’s unique advantage being how well it managed risk through its risk engine that should have prevented the kind of losses his trading firm, Alamada Research incurred.

    While he was promoting the effectiveness of FTX risk management, he was exempting Alameda from that very risk engine. In other words, his defense is actually an admission of fraud.

  • He was using customer money to fund acquisitions and other spending and investments when the terms and conditions of his site said he would not do so. Fraud.

  • His former girlfriend, who ran Alameda Research as its CEO (and Alameda was 90% SBF’s money) is cooperating with prosecutors. She admitted fraud to Alameda employees, and in her guilty plea says SBF was fully aware of what was transpiring – and that he directed the co-mingling of customer funds.

    FTX co-founder Gary Wang has also pled guilty and taken a deal, and reports are now that Nishad Singh, FTX’s former director of engineering, has negotiated one as well.

Even if Bankman-Fried can escape charges that he stole the money, the defense to theft amounts to an admission of fraud. And his co-conspirators have all turned on him. (Co-conspirator testimony isn’t enough, but that’s not all prosecutors have – indeed, SBF has been giving interview after interview making admissions.)

Perhaps illustrating how far Bankman-Friend has fallen, he no longer flies private. After making $250 million bail with the help of his parents, a Stanford computer scientist and a former Stanford law school dean, SBF relaxed in the American Airlines-British Airways Greenwich lounge at New York JFK before flying American’s lie-flat business class to San Francisco.

Flying back to New York, for a hearing at which the judge in his case considered revoking bail for violating one of its conditions (use of encryption, when he used a VPN), Sam Bankman-Fried didn’t fly lie flat business class. He didn’t fly American Airlines, United or Delta. And he didn’t even fly into JFK.

Instead he flew Alaska Airlines flight 294 with domestic first seats into Newark.

Some might say that was punishment enough. Others have been engaging in a popular financial twitter meme wondering what Bankman-Fried was dreaming about (‘wrong answers only’). I wonder if he’s just been trying to force himself to sleep, hoping to remember in a dream where he placed the private keys to his crypto wallet with all that customer money?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. He flew SF to Newark in F.
    That’s Alaska Airlines. Seat 1C ( Bulkhead)
    Pic shows him with eyes closed. Her was probably wondering how he ended up on AS.

  2. His legal chances aren’t dwindling or dimming. They were pitch black from the get go. This guy is going to prison for 20 years.

  3. He is flying F with stolen money. The bail terms need to be updated to require economy class travel (as is the case for all the feds who are prosecuting him).

    I’m surprised Gary didn’t use the opportunity to note that SBF will soon be flying JPATS fka ConAir.

  4. Lol are you a white collar criminal attorney? If not then keep the legal analysis to yourself and stick to reviewing the salad offerings in airport lounges.

  5. I know SB-F is in hot water right now and I feel really bad for the guy cause he’s facing like 150 years. Hopefully he gets like 20 years then he can put it behind him. Even after jail with all his education his life is ruined. This dude would be lucky to get food stamps and SSI. I’m surprised he’s flying in anything… he still has cash to get on a airplane.

  6. Transfer of customer funds to company/subsidiary funds (in the absence of customer approval) — like he is alleged to have done — is about as far removed from being innocent and naive as it gets in the world of finance (or any business for that matter). It’s part and parcel of the ways of criminal Ponzi scheme operators, and not far removed from the kind of criminal behavior that Bernie Madoff engaged in during the course of his living years as a fund manager.

  7. *gasp*. I hope he wasn’t accessing the Internet on his laptop in the JFK picture. That would violate the terms of his bail. If he’s innocent like he claims, then surely he wouldn’t want to do that! /sarc

  8. @Alan Gary is in fact an attorney and thus has the training, education, and expertise to comment on such matters. If you don’t like the reportage on this website please feel free to read a different travel website.

  9. @Hap Purnell

    It doesn’t look like that amigo. The notion that SBF’s more than capable defense team is somehow incriminating him through their own defense is laughable and is one of those useless opinions the layman will make without understanding the relevant case law or even the essential statutory elements of fraud. Why waste the world’s time with frivolous misinformation?

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