From CZ to SBF, 2023 was the year of the fallen crypto bro

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From CZ to SBF, 2023 was the year of the fallen crypto bro

Aurich Lawson | Getty Images (Bloomberg/Antonio Masiello)

Looking back, 2023 will likely be remembered as the year of the fallen crypto bro.

While celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Matt Damon last year faced public backlash after shilling for cryptocurrency, this year’s top headlines traced the downfalls of two of the most successful and influential crypto bros of all time: FTX co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried (often referred to as SBF) and Binance founder Changpeng Zhao (commonly known as CZ).

At 28 years old, Bankman-Fried made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2021, but within two short years, his recently updated Forbes profile notes that the man who was once “one of the richest people in crypto” in “a stunning fall from grace” now has a real-time net worth of $0.

In November, Bankman-Fried was convicted by a 12-member jury of defrauding FTX customers, after a monthlong trial where federal prosecutors accused him of building FTX into “a pyramid of deceit.” The trial followed months of wild headlines—comparing Bankman-Fried to a cartoon villain, accusing Bankman-Fried of stealing $2.2 billion from FTX customers to buy things like a $16.4 million house for his parents, and revealing that Bankman-Fried casually joked about losing track of $50 million.

Defending against his crimes at FTX, Bankman-Fried argued that “dishonesty and unfair dealing” aren’t fraud and even claimed that he couldn’t recall what he did at FTX, while FTX scrambled to recover $7.3 billion and put out the “dumpster fire.”

Ultimately, Bankman-Fried’s former FTX/Alameda Research partners, including his ex-girlfriend Caroline Ellison, testified against him. Ellison’s testimony led to even weirder revelations about SBF, like Bankman-Fried’s aspirations to become US president and his professed rejection of moral ideals like “don’t steal.” By the end of the trial, it seemed like very few felt any sympathy for the once-FTX kingpin.

Bankman-Fried now faces a maximum sentence of 110 years. His exact sentence is scheduled to be determined by a US district judge in March 2024, Reuters reported.

While FTX had been considered a giant force in the cryptocurrency world, Binance is still the world’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange—and considered more “systemically important” to crypto enthusiasts, Bloomberg reported. That’s why it was a huge deal when Binance was rocked by its own scandal in 2023 that ended in its founder and CEO, Zhao, admitting to money laundering and resigning.

Arguably Zhao’s fall from grace may have been more shocking to cryptocurrency fans than Bankman-Fried’s. Just one month prior to Zhao’s resignation, after FTX collapsed, The Economist had dubbed CZ as “crypto’s last man standing.”

Zhao launched Binance in 2017 and the next year was featured on the cover of Forbes’ first list of the wealthiest people in crypto. Peering out from under a hoodie, Zhao was considered by Forbes to be a “crypto overlord,” going from “zero to billionaire in six months,” where other crypto bros had only managed to become millionaires.

But 2023 put an abrupt end to Zhao’s reign at Binance. In March, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) sued Binance and Zhao over suspected money laundering and sanctions violations, triggering a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit in June and a Department of Justice (DOJ) probe. In the end, Binance owed billions in fines to the DOJ and the CFTC, which Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen called “historic penalties.” For personally directing Binance employees to skirt US regulatory compliance—and hide more than 100,000 suspicious transactions linked to terrorism, child sexual abuse materials, and ransomware attacks—Zhao now personally owes the CFTC $150 million.

On the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), Zhao wrote that after stepping down as Binance’s CEO, he will be taking a break and likely never helming a startup ever again.

“I am content being [a] one-shot (lucky) entrepreneur,” Zhao wrote.

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