Sam Bankman-Fried makes court appearance to switch lawyers before March sentencing

FILE - Sam Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court in New York on Feb. 16, 2023. A slimmed down, foot-tapping FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried made a brief appearance in a Federal courtroom in New York, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, to switch lawyers before his sentencing next month. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

By LARRY NEUMEISTER Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A foot-tapping FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried made a brief appearance in a New York courtroom Wednesday to switch lawyers before his sentencing next month.

His stint in Manhattan federal court came before Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who will decide how long the 31-year-old must remain behind bars.

Kaplan also presided over the trial of the one-time cryptocurrency heavyweight who told Kaplan that he’d like attorney Marc Mukasey to represent him at a sentencing hearing scheduled to occur March 28 despite a potential conflict of interest for the lawyer.

Bankman-Fried could face a lengthy prison term after his November conviction on charges including wire fraud and conspiracy. The charges were lodged against him only weeks after FTX, once the world’s second-largest crypto exchanged, collapsed into bankruptcy in November 2022.

Before his cryptocurrency empire withered, defrauding customers and investors of at least $10 billion, Bankman-Fried seemed poised to reform the fledgling cryptocurrency industry with appearances before Congress, a Super Bowl advertisement and an expanding roster of A-list celebrities endorsing his companies.

He shed his wild hair and casual wardrobe at trial, where he seemed more buttoned-down than the freewheeling persona he crafted as he built his businesses in the Bahamas from 2017 to November 2022, before authorities brought him to the United States for trial a month later.

Returning to court on Wednesday, he had noticeably lost some weight and his black hair was sprouting anew as he was led into court with his ankles shackled beneath his prison-issued drab pants and shirt.

In response to the judge’s questions, he acknowledged that he was on antidepressants and medication to keep his attention focused.

He answered questions casually, at times, saying “nope” and “yep” as his right foot tapped rapidly against the floor beneath the table where he sat.

Bankman-Fried acknowledged that he knew Mukasey also represented a former chief executive of a now-bankrupt cryptocurrency lending platform that lent money to one of Bankman-Fried’s companies, which prosecutors plan to describe at sentencing as a victim of Bankman-Fried that should receive restitution.

He said he understood the potential conflicts and wanted to proceed with Mukasey’s representation anyway.

Mukasey, who declined to speak about his client outside the courtroom, said he’ll file presentence arguments next Tuesday.