FTX’s Gary Wang, Alameda’s Caroline Ellison plead guilty to federal charges, cooperating with prosecutors

FTX co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried is escorted out of the Magistrate’s Court on December 21, 2022 in Nassau, Bahamas. 
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FTX co-founder Gary Wang and former Alameda Research co-CEO Caroline Ellison both pleaded guilty to federal charges in the Southern District of New York, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a message Wednesday.

Wang pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit commodities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud. Ellison pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud, two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit commodities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The charges were released the same night that former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried was en route from the Bahamas to New York, where he faces eight federal criminal charges from the same prosecutors who accepted plea deals from Ellison and Wang.

Bankman-Fried was arrested last week in the Bahamas following his indictment in the Southern District of New York. He’s spent the last few days embroiled in contentious court hearings over whether he would accept extradition to the U.S.

Simultaneously, both the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission released civil complaints against them.

The SEC alleged that they were involved “in a multiyear scheme to defraud equity investors in FTX, the crypto trading platform co-founded by Samuel Bankman-Fried and Wang.”

The CFTC’s expanded complaint charges “Ellison with fraud and material misrepresentations in connection with the sale of digital asset commodities in interstate commerce, and charges Wang with fraud in connection with the sale of digital asset commodities in interstate commerce.”

Wang and Ellison accepted the claims made against them, the CFTC statement said. Ellison was singled out in the SEC complaint for engaging in artificial manipulation of FTT, FTX’s self-issued token, as part of a broader effort to boost Alameda Research’s available collateral for lending.

The SEC said that both Ellison and Wang are cooperating with the agency’s ongoing investigation.

Alameda Research was linked to multiple loans from major crypto firms that have now filed for bankruptcy protection, including Voyager Digital and BlockFi Lending.

Williams did not offer specific details on charges against Ellison or Wang. The SEC alleges that both Ellison and Wang, in their respective roles at Alameda and FTX, abetted Bankman-Fried in allegedly defrauding FTX customers.

The SEC alleges that Wang created a software backdoor in FTX’s platform which allowed Alameda to divert customer funds for its own trades. Alameda was led by Bankman-Fried until 2021, when Ellison assumed control alongside Sam Trabucco, who departed from Alameda in August 2022.

Trabucco did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Ellison, 28, and Wang, 29, become the second and third individuals to be charged in connection with FTX’s multibillion-dollar collapse. Bankman-Fried, 30, was indicted in federal court earlier this month.

“Bankman-Fried and Wang thus gave Alameda and Ellison carte blanche to use FTX customer assets for Alameda’s trading operations and for whatever other purposes Bankman-Fried and Ellison saw fit,” the SEC said. Trabucco, who joined Alameda “in or around 2019,” according to the SEC, was not mentioned in connection with any wrongdoing.

Wang’s attorney said in a statement, “Gary has accepted responsibility for his actions and takes seriously his obligations as a cooperating witness.”

Counsel for Ellison did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. A spokesperson within the Bankman-Fried camp declined to give comment.

CNBC’s Steven Kopack and Brian Schwartz contributed to this report.