Sam Bankman-Fried is now entering a new, darker chapter in his life, as the last one ended with a guilty verdict in his criminal trial in New York.
After only a few hours of deliberation Thursday evening, a Manhattan jury convicted Bankman-Fried of all seven counts of fraud and conspiracy charges levied against him by the U.S. government, bringing the saga of crypto exchange FTX’s incredible rise and spectacular collapse to a narrative conclusion.
But the trial-ending gavel by the judge kicks off a grim beginning just as much as a stunning end, as he now heads toward sentencing—receiving a punishment that by all accounts will involve significant jail time.
The freshly convicted 31-year-old now faces a maximum sentence of 115 years in federal prison when he appears one last time before U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan on March 28. But perhaps weighing just as much on the disgraced entrepreneur’s mind as the potential length of that sentence is where he will be sent to serve it. American federal prisons run the gamut in terms of quality of living, and the specific prisons Bankman-Fried may most likely be sent to also vary wildly in daily experiences and the risk of violence.
Christopher Zoukis, a legal consultant who advises clients on navigating the federal prison system, thinks Bankman-Fried is most likely—based on the facts of his case—to be sent to a medium-security federal prison in California.
If the crypto founder receives a sentence of 25 years or more, precedent suggests that he will likely receive a medium-security prison designation, according to Zoukis. And even though Bankman-Fried was tried in New York, he’s not from there; Zoukis believes that because the entrepreneur was previously living under house arrest at his family’s home in Palo Alto, odds are he’ll be sent to a prison closer to his family on the West Coast.
That’s not necessarily great news for the one-time billionaire.
“Your West Coast mediums tend to be a lot harder,” Zoukis told Decrypt. “There’s a lot more gang involvement, and a lot more prison politics, than at East Coast or mid-Atlantic mediums.”
Federal prisons are organized by security level, from minimum to high. Minimum-security prisons house mostly non-violent offenders in dorm-style housing. At low-security prisons, staffing is higher, but violence is also low, and inmates also live together in dorms. Things start to look different at medium-security prisons, where inmates with longer prison sentences or more severe records are kept in heavily guarded cells.
“When you get to the medium-security level, you have a huge swing,” Zoukis said. “You have extremely violent mediums—and then you have very soft mediums.”
One California medium-security federal prison—FCI Victorville Medium—has such an extensive record of inmate violence that it is colloquially referred to as “Victimville.” While FCI Victorville technically fits the criteria for the type of prison at which Bankman-Fried may end up, though, Zoukis doubts the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) would want to risk the negative publicity that would likely come if the former Silicon Valley darling was assaulted or murdered in custody.
“That place is just brutal,” he said. “I don’t think the BOP wants a very visible assault or death on their hands.”
“Softer” medium prisons in California aren’t much more attractive options, though. One such prison—FCI Herlong, which is north of Lake Tahoe—used to be considered a relatively livable medium-security prison. It recently lost that reputation.
“For a long time it was thought of as a better medium—but more recently, in the last two or three months, they’ve had a significant shift there and people like sex offenders, LGBT inmates, and informants—they really can’t stay in general population anymore,” Zoukis said of FCI Herlong. “It’s just become too dangerous now.”
Zoukis believes Bankman-Fried is, due to a lack of ideal options, most likely to be sent either to FCI Herlong, to USP Lompoc, north of Santa Barbara, or to FCI Mendota, outside of Fresno. And while the convicted crypto executive or his attorneys could potentially lobby the Bureau of Prisons for a better prison assignment, those requests are rarely successful.
“It’s hard to influence the DSCC,” Zoukis said of the department within the Bureau of Prisons that determines initial prisoner designations. “The times that we’re able to really effectively influence them is when you have serious mental health or physical health problems.”
Zoukis doubts that Bankman-Fried’s well-documented legal requests for Adderall and vegan food will meet that bar. He also, tangentially, thinks the fallen crypto mogul may have to say goodbye to those creature comforts for the indefinite future.
“I would be astounded if they gave Adderall,” he said. “And they will have a vegetarian option for every meal. It won’t be delightful.”
Edited by Ryan Ozawa.