After a week in which Sam Bankman-Fried was gabbing to just about anyone who would listen — repeating his questionable theory as to how his $32 billion crypto exchange’s collapse was a fraud-free mistake — what people were talking about this past weekend was what wasn’t said by his former top lieutenant and ex-girlfriend, Caroline Ellison. On Sunday afternoon, Autism Capital — an anonymous Twitter account that has been a go-to source for rumors (some true, some not so much) about everything related to Bankman-Fried — posted two pictures that appeared to show Ellison at a coffee shop in Manhattan. The sighting hasn’t been confirmed by proper reporting, but the manager of the store then said on his personal account that it was her:
I called the manager of the café, Ground Support, but he wasn’t interested in discussing it. “I’m not going to answer any questions, bro. Just don’t call here,” he said. Ellison has also been silent and didn’t respond to an email asking about it. So whether it really was her remains the subject of an active discussion on Twitter.
Ellison is a key figure in the collapse of Bankman-Fried’s crypto exchange, FTX, and its sister hedge fund, Alameda Research. There is an active criminal investigation by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office into whether or not fraud was at the center of the collapse. Ellison had already told her former employees, as was first reported in The Wall Street Journal, that she, Bankman-Fried, and at least one other executive knew that customer deposits were transferred to Alameda. Given her own potential legal exposure in the case, one may expect her to stay in the sunny Bahamas, or at least in Hong Kong, where she may be harder to find — and potentially to arrest. Extradition from China is certainly less predictable or straightforward than detaining someone on U.S. soil. So if that really was Ellison in the coffee shop in Manhattan, then it may be a meaningful sign about her strategy in the case.
The timing of this (potential) sighting is (potentially) significant. (Could it be more than a coincidence that Autism Capital got the pictures? The crypto-news account is relatively niche, but it is one of 143 users followed by Ellison on Twitter.) Bankman-Fried was silent for a few weeks, only to conduct a flurry of media appearances in which he has laid blame at the feet of Ellison and other executives. Given that, Ellison now has every reason to play a different kind of game — not the one in which she runs to the New York Times to tell her story but the one in which she cooperates with prosecutors who may be willing to cut her some kind of deal to help them bring their case against the kingpin, Bankman-Fried.
Ellison would be a top priority for any prosecutor trying to indict Bankman-Fried. She has already talked about how he directed investments at Alameda — and, in at least one case, has talked about how he “convinced” her Alameda should invest in one of his other companies. (The YouTube video in which she talks about that investment, which was on FTX’s channel, was taken down after I reported on it on Friday.) This contradicts the general line that SBF gives nowadays: that he wasn’t really all that involved in what Alameda was up to. Surely, if cracks are already starting to show in Bankman-Fried’s own story, the Justice Department is going to keep trying to find more.