Sam Bankman-Fried

The controversial trial and conviction of former crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried have shed light on his roles as a boss, executive and partner to his former colleagues and ex-girlfriend. While the world viewed the 31-year-old MIT graduate as a fraudster, his former personal secretary claimed that he "wasn't in it to amass a fortune."

Last week, Bankman-Fried was found guilty of all seven charges filed against him by the U.S. government. As he awaits his sentencing in March 2024, a recent interview with his former executive assistant portrayed the alleged crypto criminal differently, suggesting that, while he should take responsibility for what transpired, he is simply "misunderstood."

Natalie Tien, who worked as Bankman-Fried's assistant and served as FTX's head of PR and marketing for about 2 1/2 years, expressed her sadness at witnessing her former boss potentially facing a life sentence.

"I'm not going to lie, I was sad. And it wasn't because I felt sad because he was found guilty — that I expected. I feel like this is the right outcome, and I feel like he needs to be responsible for what happened," she said but also underlined that she couldn't help but feel sad because she feels like Bankman-Fried is "so misunderstood."

Tien, who admitted to having lost $500,000 during the spectacular crash of FTX, thinks that Bankman-Fried's actions were not really about the money as she claimed to have personally seen "a more human side of Sam" and noted that for her, she was like "watching a kid do something that went really wrong."

The former FTX employee "genuinely still [believes] that he wasn't in it to make himself a fortune.'' Tien said she disagreed "Every time a witness or one of the prosecutors talked about Sam like he was a robot with no emotion, or that he was ruthless," before adding, "I didn't agree. He worked hard and was super-approachable."

Tien added, "So when the prosecution said in their closing argument to the effect of: "Sam lied, he stole, he was greedy," I thought: "Lie? Yes. Steal? Yes." But he wasn't greedy. I genuinely still believe that he wasn't in it to make himself a fortune."

But while his former executive assistant was saddened by what happened to her ex-boss, many felt relieved that after a year, Bankman-Fried was finally convicted.

"This is an incredibly important conviction, the impact of which will be felt throughout the crypto industry," Sarah Paul, a former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and currently a partner at law firm Eversheds Sutherland, told International Business Times.

"As the government rightly pointed out in its rebuttal summation today, promising customers that their assets are safe and then taking that money and spending it on yourself is not a reasonable business decision. It is a fraud. As the jury swiftly concluded, SBF committed a fraud on the customers. They trusted him to keep safe the money they deposited in the exchange. Instead, he used the exchange as his personal piggy bank," she added.

Paul, who is now the Co-Global Head of Corporate Crime and Investigations at Eversheds Sutherland, also said: "I hope this conviction will inspire Congress to invest further in the efforts they have already been making to pass legislation in the crypto space. There are many participants in the crypto industry who want to do the right thing, but there are also bad actors, as the FTX case illustrates. This case can and should spur Congress to take concrete and pragmatic legislative action that respects responsible industry participants while offering needed protections to customers."

"Today's conviction is also further confirmation of what the Ad Hoc Committee has been saying from the outset of the bankruptcy proceedings: that the value of the bankruptcy estates belongs to customers given the insider misappropriation of exchange funds," Erin Broderick, Head of Cross-Border Restructuring & Insolvency – Financial Restructuring Group at Eversheds Sutherland, told IBT.

"We successfully advocated for the rightful allocation of value to customers during negotiations with the Debtors, the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, and a group of putative class action plaintiffs. The result was the execution of a Plan Support Agreement (PSA) that provides customers with a priority distribution expected to result in approximately 90% of the distributable value of the FTX Debtors to be paid to all customers," Broderick added.