SBF tries to revise bail conditions after judge noted suspicious VPN use

SBF tries to revise bail conditions after judge noted suspicious VPN use

A few weeks ago, disgraced FTX founder Samuel Bankman-Fried was in danger of losing his bail package and potentially being jailed until October. The court was fed up with trying to monitor Bankman-Fried’s online activity, and United States district judge Lewis Kaplan decided that the only option left was for Bankman-Fried to recommend independent experts who could help the court set appropriate bail conditions to limit any suspicious online activity.

Kaplan gave Bankman-Fried until this Friday to find experts who could help the court determine precisely what tech privileges needed to be revoked to ensure that Bankman-Fried would be incapable of compromising the court’s investigation into the criminal fraud case, Bloomberg reported. Yesterday, Bankman-Fried officially submitted his recommendations, naming two tech consultants he believes are qualified to advise on his bail conditions: Edward Stroz and Michael McGowan.

Bankman-Fried supplied resumes for both candidates. Stroz was an FBI agent in the 1980s and 1990s, specializing in major international financial crimes. During that time, he created New York City’s Computer Crime Squad and investigated hundreds of cases alleging bank fraud. Since then, he has spent the past two decades managing an international consulting firm, Aon, where his duties include overseeing digital forensics investigations for corporate clients, trial counsel, and civil litigants.

McGowan has a similar background, with 19 years of experience as a digital forensics consultant, including 15 years at Aon. In 2019, he founded his own consulting company, Metafor. His resume highlights his history of analyzing tech-related questions in high-profile cases, including analyzing Major League Baseball player Alex Rodriguez’s text messages, detecting a forged contract with Mark Zuckerberg, and uncovering a deleted document that led to a multi-hundred-million-dollar settlement in a Zoom case.

Stroz told Ars he has no comment at this time. Ars could not immediately reach McGowan for comment. A spokesperson for Bankman-Fried’s counsel Mark S. Cohen also declined to comment.

It will be up to Kaplan to decide if these experts are qualified to help the court set new bail conditions. Kaplan decided he needed tech consulting after he learned that Bankman-Fried had been using a VPN.

Bankman-Fried said he was using the VPN service “just to watch the Super Bowl,” Bloomberg reported, but the judge knew he had accessed the VPN at least one other time. And this suspicious online activity came after Bankman-Fried had already been prohibited from using encrypted messaging or call applications, specifically Slack and Signal. At the time, Kaplan wrote that his biggest concern with the messaging and call apps was that Bankman-Fried was potentially contacting witnesses.

Bloomberg reported that the court was likely worried that Bankman-Fried could just as easily have been using the VPN to cover his tracks while logging into a cryptocurrency exchange, transferring data, or accessing the dark web. In his order prohibiting Bankman-Fried’s VPN use, Kaplan wrote, “The defendant’s use of a VPN presents many of the same risks associated with his use of an encrypted messaging or call application.”

If Kaplan accepts either or both of Bankman-Fried’s independent expert recommendations, Stroz and McGowan will help the court determine what other tech use could be associated with those same risks—beyond encrypted messages and VPN services—and should be prohibited until the case is decided.