"And I just feel like it was watching a kid do something that went really wrong."
Last week, after a month-long trial, former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried was found guilty on seven counts of fraud — a verdict that could put the former crypto king behind bars for the rest of his life.
During the trial, two very different versions of Bankman-Fried were presented to the jury. In the prosecution's — ultimately winning — telling, Bankman-Fried was a conniving villain who planned and executed crimes motivated by unbridled greed; meanwhile, according to the defense, the former billionaire was a bumbling fool who never meant for anyone to get hurt.
And now, in the wake of SBF's conviction, it seems that yet another portrait of the young crypto con is emerging. As Natalie Tien, FTX's former head of PR and marketing and Bankman-Fried's one-time personal assistant, told Axios, watching her former boss face a life sentence made her feel very "sad" — but mostly, she says, because people just don't get him.
"I feel like this is the right outcome and I feel like he needs to be responsible for what happened," Tien told Axios, lamenting that she "couldn't help but feel sad because I do feel like he's so misunderstood."
"I saw a more human side of Sam," Tien added later, "and I just feel like it was watching a kid do something that went really wrong."
Throughout the interview, Tien — who admitted that she'd herself lost $500,000 in the FTX crash — reiterated her belief that Bankman-Fried's actions weren't ever really about money, telling Axios that she "genuinely still [believes] that he wasn't in it to make himself a fortune."
Of course, this is a very different insider picture of Bankman-Fried than was painted by other former friends and coworkers, many of whom took the stand against their former boss in the trial. And, as we're sure it also goes without saying: Bankman-Fried, a 31-year-old man, is not a little boy.
Still, to Tien's credit, Bankman-Fried's reputation as a reluctant genius-boy wunderkind certainly hinged on his youth, while his apparent aloofness and nonplus to the luxury of it all — a portrayal that, in retrospect, was resoundingly misleading — were central elements to his success and thus, to the success of FTX overall. And for most people, we're sure it's true that if you give enough time and energy to something — and, in Tien's case, someone — you probably want to believe that said thing or person isn't committing massive financial crimes.
"And that's the thing I wonder — is it because I used to work for him, so I brainwashed myself?" Tien bluntly told Axios when asked if she might be experiencing Stockholm syndrome. "And was I brainwashed so deep that I'm still defending it?"
"I still don't know," Tien added.
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