The Lawyers Sam Bankman-Fried Once Trusted Are Drawing Criticism

Just prior to FTX collapsed in November, just one of its exterior legal professionals at the legislation company Sullivan & Cromwell emailed a colleague at an additional company, insisting that the cryptocurrency exchange’s finances were steady.

Rumors of FTX’s demise ended up “silliness,” the attorney, Andrew Dietderich, wrote. “FTX is rock solid, doesn’t use consumer money or consider credit hazard at all,” he stated.

4 times afterwards, FTX filed for individual bankruptcy. Mr. Dietderich immediately organized for Sam Bankman-Fried, the exchange’s founder, to step down so that a new chief government, John Jay Ray III, a professional in company turnarounds, could guide the enterprise. When Mr. Ray desired lawyers to take care of the bankruptcy, a valuable assignment, he asked a judge to appoint the similar kinds who had aided get him the career: Sullivan & Cromwell.

Now, with Mr. Bankman-Fried established to go on demo subsequent month on fraud expenses stemming from FTX’s failure, Sullivan & Cromwell’s tangled background with the trade is drawing scrutiny — especially from Mr. Bankman-Fried’s lawyers and family.

For months, Mr. Bankman-Fried has attacked Sullivan & Cromwell in court papers and on social media, arguing that the firm’s legal professionals established him up as the fall dude for FTX’s implosion even though downplaying their possess involvement with the trade. The dispute grew to become even much more private this 7 days when FTX sued Mr. Bankman-Fried’s dad and mom, trying to get to claw back thousands and thousands of bucks and proclaiming the trade experienced operated like a “family company.”

Criticism of Sullivan & Cromwell has become additional prevalent not long ago, as the company has racked up over $100 million in lawful costs from FTX’s individual bankruptcy. This summer time, its legal professionals clashed with reps for FTX’s tens of millions of disgruntled creditors more than the firm’s lawful technique and the pace of its initiatives to get better billions in lacking assets.

“They have been involved ahead of the personal bankruptcy,” mentioned Sunil Kavuri, an FTX creditor who dropped far more than $2 million in the collapse. “They should’ve been mindful of what was heading on.”

The dispute around Sullivan & Cromwell’s romantic relationship with FTX demonstrates the variety of impressive institutions that were keen to aid Mr. Bankman-Fried throughout his speedy rise, even as he resisted simple because of diligence and eschewed classic corporate governance. And it gives a preview of a conflict that may possibly unfold at Mr. Bankman-Fried’s trial in Manhattan, where by he is envisioned to change some of the blame for FTX’s bankruptcy to Sullivan & Cromwell and a 2nd regulation agency that encouraged him, Fenwick & West.

In court docket filings, Mr. Bankman-Fried’s legal professionals have prompt that they may possibly raise a so-identified as guidance of counsel protection to argue that these companies accredited several of FTX’s actions. Prosecutors have argued that the decide overseeing the demo really should not permit Mr. Bankman-Fried to blame his legal professionals, mainly because the founder normally lied about how his organization was utilizing its revenue. They also said he should have to disclose irrespective of whether he relied on authorized guidance from his moms and dads, who are longtime Stanford law professors.

A spokesman for FTX mentioned Mr. Bankman-Fried’s promises were “a biased tale line” intended to unfairly blame the industry experts trying to get well money. A agent for Sullivan & Cromwell declined to comment. In court, the law organization has reported that FTX was in no way a “regular customer,” and that the firm experienced place in position techniques to guard against conflicts of interest in the course of the individual bankruptcy.

A spokesman for Mr. Bankman-Fried declined to comment. The FTX founder has pleaded not responsible to expenses that he orchestrated a plan to funnel billions in consumer dollars into undertaking investments, genuine estate purchases and political donations. His trial is scheduled to get started on Oct. 3.

A person of the oldest law companies in New York, Sullivan & Cromwell commenced handling authorized matters for FTX in summer time 2021 just after just one of its companions, Ryne Miller, was hired as basic counsel of FTX.US, the exchange’s American arm.

In excess of the following yr and a 50 %, the agency labored on 20 legal matters for FTX and its sister hedge fund, Alameda Analysis, court docket information demonstrate, such as discussions with federal regulators at the Commodity Futures Buying and selling Commission. Sullivan & Cromwell been given a whole of about $8.5 million for the perform.

Mr. Bankman-Fried has claimed that beyond people distinct matters, he labored out of Sullivan & Cromwell’s places of work in New York when checking out from FTX’s Bahamas headquarters. And when FTX begun teetering in November, Mr. Dietderich emailed a law firm performing on the individual bankruptcy of Voyager Digital, a crypto firm that FTX was trying to receive, to assure him that the trade “doesn’t lend” its customers’ money.

It turned out he was completely wrong. As FTX plunged into disaster the upcoming day, Mr. Miller sought a $4 million retainer for Sullivan & Cromwell so the organization could function on a feasible bankruptcy submitting, in accordance to messages he despatched at the time. Quickly, Sullivan & Cromwell legal professionals alerted the authorities to probable felony malfeasance at FTX, though Mr. Dietderich inspired Mr. Bankman-Fried to permit Mr. Ray just take around the exchange.

In essence, Sullivan & Cromwell labored the two sides of the disaster. When FTX was a darling of the corporate and political elite, the firm’s legal professionals assisted Mr. Bankman-Fried navigate Washington as he pushed to loosen laws. Following FTX failed, Sullivan & Cromwell labored intently with federal prosectors, supplying them with key company documents.

In January, the U.S. trustee assigned to FTX’s personal bankruptcy raised the prospect of eliminating Sullivan & Cromwell from the situation, citing its failure to disclose all of its past get the job done for FTX. About the exact same time, four U.S. senators launched a letter arguing that Sullivan & Cromwell had a conflict of curiosity due to the fact the business may well bear some accountability for FTX’s failure. But the trustee backed down just after the business manufactured a additional detailed disclosure, and a choose permitted the lawyers to carry on overseeing the bankruptcy, saying he observed “no proof of any real conflict.”

Mr. Bankman-Fried has remained fixated on Sullivan & Cromwell. His legal professionals have argued that the firm is furnishing proof to the prosecutors that demonstrates inadequately on Mr. Bankman-Fried, even though withholding material that could assist the protection. Prosecutors have denied that claim, producing in court docket papers that FTX and its lawyers “have been responding to the government’s document requests voluntarily.”

Immediately after Mr. Bankman-Fried’s arrest, his mother, Barbara Fried, contacted a person of her Stanford colleagues, the legal ethics scholar Invoice Simon, and asked him to examine Sullivan & Cromwell’s perform in the bankruptcy. Mr. Simon, a loved ones mate, put in about 9 hours speaking about the scenario with Mr. Bankman-Fried in June, he mentioned in an job interview, prior to composing an unpublished write-up criticizing the organization, which he shared with The New York Instances.

“It is tough to see how the lawyers could have accomplished their positions during the time period in which they represented FTX,” he wrote, without familiarizing on their own with techniques that “are now condemned as irresponsible or even worse.”

Rebecca Roiphe, a former prosecutor and a professor at New York Law College, reported it was reasonable to elevate concerns about potential conflicts of interest when a law agency represented a business the two before and all through a governing administration investigation that could require connected perform.

“But this is not unheard of and does not automatically demonstrate wrongdoing,” she reported, introducing that Mr. Simon had questioned her to overview his article.

At the similar time that Sullivan & Cromwell has clashed with Mr. Bankman-Fried, the organization has confronted pushback from FTX’s lenders. They have complained that the legislation organization has failed to increase proceeds from the sale of the exchange’s property. So considerably, the attorneys say they have recovered about $7 billion, but it’s unclear how substantially of that will be returned to buyers, who have filed $16 billion in statements, court filings show.

The dispute spilled into public in July when a group appointed to stand for FTX’s creditors in the situation stated Sullivan & Cromwell experienced dismissed its strategies about how to take care of the bankruptcy. The regulation organization responded that some collectors had been partaking in “unprofessional conduct” — the legal professionals had been remaining perturbed soon after a conference in which at the very least 1 creditor utilized a four-letter word to categorical irritation, two men and women acquainted with the trade said.

None of those people conflicts have stemmed the move of payments to Sullivan & Cromwell, which has far more than 200 lawyers, paralegals and guidance team associates performing on FTX’s individual bankruptcy, the most senior of whom demand $2,165 an hour.

In its most the latest month-to-month invoice, Sullivan & Cromwell said it was owed extra than $10 million for its do the job on the bankruptcy, such as over 100 costs for conferences, calls or correspondence with the federal prosecutors pursuing Mr. Bankman-Fried.