- Former Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison is not named in prosecutors’ charges against Sam Bankman-Fried
- But the SEC’s civil suit references her statements on the relationship between FTX and Alameda.
- Conspiracy charges and civil claims against SBF show others in the crosshairs, legal experts said.
As Sam Bankman-Fried was taken away in handcuffs, some people who have been watching the implosion of FTX are wondering: Where’s Caroline Ellison, his onetime girlfriend who ran his crypto hedge fund Alameda Research?
So far, legal watchers say US prosecutors and regulators have been tight-lipped: The criminal indictment made no mention of Ellison, and the SEC’s civil complaint targeted just Bankman-Fried.
But in investigating what US Attorney Damian Williams called “one of the biggest financial frauds in American history,” the government is almost certainly looking beyond Bankman-Fried, legal experts said.
“It would not surprise me if Ellison has already spoken with prosecutors,” said Renato Mariotti, a partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, and a former federal prosecutor in Chicago. “And given the situation she’s in, she has to be at least considering that move.”
No charges or government complaints have been brought against Ellison so far. But her rise as CEO at Alameda, Bankman-Fried’s other crypto company separate from FTX, may certainly put her in investigators’ sights.
The SEC outlined her tenure at Alameda since she joined in 2018, citing news reports that quoted her as claiming FTX and Alameda were “at arm’s length,” but then telling Alameda employees last month that the firm’s leadership knew it took FTX funds, a detail reported in The Wall Street Journal at the time.
The SEC’s complaint on Tuesday claimed that Bankman-Fried “remained the ultimate decision-maker” at Alameda, even after Ellison took over the reins.
US Attorney Damian Williams, who heads the federal prosecutors’ office in Manhattan that charged Bankman-Fried, told reporters on Tuesday that investigators are still on the case. Depending on what they uncover, the agency can bring new charges and target other defendants.
There are signs that’s coming — the conspiracy counts against Bankman-Fried show that a grand jury already found that prosecutors showed evidence that at least two people agreed to participate in an alleged criminal scheme. Although the indictment offers few insights beyond Bankman-Fried’s role, that’s not unusual during an ongoing investigation, said Rebecca Mermelstein, a partner at O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
It’s unclear what kind of charges, if any, Ellison herself may be facing. The conspiracy counts against Bankman-Fried suggest that federal prosecutors may be pursuing others whom they consider to be potential co-conspirators, particularly on counts against him like conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit securities fraud.
Those who fear being caught in the government’s snare may often cooperate as witnesses in the investigation in hopes of securing some kind of leniency, said Anil Mujumdar, a professor at the University of Alabama school of law, and a former white collar defense attorney.
“Typically, people in her position — if they are aware of misconduct, or even if they may have participated — they can help the government make the case against another defendant by trying to engage in early plea negotiations, and exchange information in return for a potentially lighter sentence,” Mujumdar said.
An attorney for Ellison, Stephanie Avakian of the law firm WilmerHale, did not respond to Insider’s request for comment Wednesday on the charges against Bankman-Fried, or Ellison’s current whereabouts. Until recently, she was living in a luxury penthouse in the Bahamas with Bankman-Fried, and eight other members of his inner circle, according to a report in CoinDesk.
Since Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire began unraveling in November however, Ellison has stayed away from the public eye.
That Ellison is being talked about in stories about a large potential fraud is a jarring turn of events for someone who was once vice president of Stanford’s Effective Altruism club, where she set her sights on understanding how to allocate money for the betterment of the world.
In fact, she and Bankman-Fried initially bonded over their interest in so-called effective altruism when they first met as colleagues at the trading firm Jane Street Capital. Both had also been raised by university professors. While Bankman-Fried’s parents were professors at Stanford Law School, Ellison’s were economists based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Once Bankman-Fried had designs on launching his own crypto trading firm, he convinced Ellison to come on board. Ellison was one of his few female colleagues and the two eventually entered into a polyamorous relationship with others in his inner business circle, according to a CoinDesk article that relied on anonymous sources. Bankman-Fried has said he dated Ellison for about six months, but denied having a polyamorous relationship.
Ellison largely remained in the shadow of Bankman-Fried, but officially took over as CEO of Alameda Research in April 2022 after her colleague Sam Trabucco stepped down.