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Judge nixing Sam Bankman-Fried jail release wonders if he’d flee

A judge on Thursday closed the door on FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s hopes to be free during his trial, although he extended the hours that the cryptocurrency peddler can meet with his lawyers in a federal courthouse.

At a hearing, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan rejected a request by Bankman-Fried’s lawyers to free their client so he could better prepare his defense against charges that he defrauded cryptocurrency investors.

Bankman-Fried, 31, faces the start of his trial Tuesday in Manhattan. He has pleaded not guilty.

His lawyer, Mark Cohen, told Kaplan that he cannot meaningfully confer with his client as long as Bankman-Fried is jailed at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

And he insisted that there was no risk that Bankman-Fried would flee, prompting Kaplan to interrupt him.

“The closer we get to trial, the more I’m wondering about that,” Kaplan said. “Your client, if there is conviction, could be looking at a very long sentence. If things begin to look bleak — maybe he feels that now — if that were to happen and if he had the opportunity, maybe the time would come that he would seek to flee.”

Kaplan revoked Bankman-Fried’s $250 million bond last month after concluding that Bankman-Fried had tried to influence potential trial witnesses.

Since he was brought to the United States last December from the Bahamas, Bankman-Fried had been required to stay at his parent’s Palo Alto, California, home with severely limited access to electronics.

Prosecutors say he intentionally deceived customers and investors to enrich himself and others while playing a central role in the company’s multibillion-dollar collapse after the equivalent of a bank run.

Kaplan said Bankman-Fried has had adequate time to prepare for trial in the more than seven months when he had unlimited access to evidence turned over by prosecutors and as a result of “extraordinary” measures taken at the federal jail to enable him to work on his defense.

And he said the case against him was “by no means unique” in presenting challenges for reviewing evidence. He noted that some drug conspiracy cases involve hundreds of thousands of hours of audio and surveillance tapes, often in foreign languages.

However, the judge said he wanted to make every effort to accommodate the defendant’s concerns and would thus order that he be brought to the courthouse at 7 a.m. on some days to work with his lawyers prior to the start of the trial day several hours later.

The trial is expected to last up to six weeks.

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