By Jeff Birren, Senior Writer
The most recent class-action complaint against FTX calls it “the largest financial fraud in US history.” FTX’s mastermind, Sam Bankman-Fried tweeted a belated apology and admission that “that I f@*ked up” (Garrison et al v. Golden State Warriors, LLC and Stephen Curry, N.D. Cal (7-21-23)). This article will bring prior cases up to date and then examine the recent Garrison complaint.
Lam v. FTX
This publication reported on Lam last December. Lam is a civil case against FTX and the Warriors, filed in November 2022 in San Francisco. Since that time more cases have been filed against FTX, its former officers, investors, banks, trading partners and endorsers in U.S. District Courts in California (Central), Florida, Maryland, Michigan (Eastern), Nevada, New Jersey, New York (Southern), Texas (Western), and Washington (Eastern). Some plaintiffs sought consolidation while others opposed it. Various defendants likewise sought, and others opposed consolidation. That was more than enough for the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. In June the Panel agreed to transfer eight of the pending cases to Southern District of Florida “for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings.” With that, the Lam file in San Francisco was closed.
Since these pages looked at this debacle in February 2024, Caroline Ellison, the onetime CEO of Alameda Research, FTX co-founder Gary Wang and former FTX engineering chief Nishad Singh, pled guilty to criminal charges. As part of their plea agreements, they agreed to testify against Bankman-Fried in his upcoming criminal trial. The prosecutors stated that their testimony will show jurors “the unlawful conduct directed and undertaken by the defendant.” Insiders will thus be pointing the finger at Bankman-Fried. Their testimony will be helpful to the civil plaintiffs in proving that FTX was a fraud, and conversely harmful to civil defendants who sold their names to the scheme. The judge revoked bond for Bankman-Fried due to misconduct, so his trial preparation has been from jail.
The Miami Arena was freed from its FTX naming deal by the bankruptcy judge. This spring it entered into a new 17-year agreement with local software company Kaseya Ltd. The Arena will receive $117 million during the contract, and it is now the Kaseya Center. The Miami Heat will receive $2 million annually. The agreement became effective in July. Conversely, U. C. Berkeley has not found a replacement stadium sponsor. The bankruptcy case remains open and continues to crawl. The docket sheet has over 2,220 entries, and is full of statements, schedules, and other filings, though nothing sheds further light on FTX’s deleterious impact on the world of sports.
Edwin Garrison is the lead plaintiff in a class action against FTX, its ringleaders and celebrity endorsers, filed in federal court in the Southern District of Florida. There are now over 200 entries on the docket sheet, including motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, for failure to state a claim, and to transfer.
Garrison Goes To San Francisco
In Florida, the Warriors’ and Curry argued that the Florida Court lacked personal jurisdiction. The Garrison plaintiffs responded by filing a complaint in California solely against Curry and the Warriors. The complaint is a product of today’s digital age. It is 129 pages with 413 paragraphs. There are 148 numbered footnotes, all with digital links. Prior to the specific allegations concerning Curry or the Warriors, there is a color photo of the Warriors’ arena with FXT affixed to the top of and 22 color tweets from Bankman-Fried.
The allegations specific to Curry begin on page 80. It has 1 color photo of Curry, photos of 9 Curry videos and 4 Curry tweets. There are sixteen allegations against Curry and the Warriors. The original Florida court complaint had a mere four causes of action.
Garrison states that “FTX partnered with Curry as a brand ambassador.” His “services” were posted on social media and appeared in commercial advertising.” FTX tweeted a “Welcome to the FTX Team, Stephen Curry” and its goal was to “successfully solicit or attempt to solicit investors” for FTX. In return, “Curry received a substantial total compensation package, including an equity stake in FTX.” Contractually, the more success Curry “had in influencing consumers” to invest in FTX, “the more Curry stood to profit financially.”
Moreover, Curry “engaged in a sustained and aggressive promotion and advertising campaign” on behalf of FTX. He posted on social media and “appeared in images and videos used to promote FTX.” Curry made “numerous statements” to promote FTX but did “not disclose” the form or amount of his payments to promote FTX. Curry claimed that he was “excited to partner with FTX”, while admitting that although he was “not an expert” he “did not need to be. With FTX I have everything I need to buy, sell and trade crypto safely.” Curry knew that his promotions “would be disseminated to consumers”.
Curry did not stop there. He set up his own collection of images that were “exclusively available on the FTX platform. The co-branding promotion was intended to drive traffic to FTX and thereby generate consumer interest in FTX crypto-securities.” Curry also “failed to disclose” that he would “financially profit from this and other promotions by driving FTX’s business.”
His activity included “merchandising tie-ins” with FTX. This “has produced over $4.4 Million in trading volume on FTX.” FTX released various tweets in praise of its paid endorser. Curry returned the favor, replying in tweets, even one related to FTX’s 2022 Super Bowl commercial. All the while, “Curry was being compensated for his participation, like a planted audience member in a magic show.” At times his replies took the form of video links, allegedly created by Curry. He also mentioned that he was part of the “FTX fam.”
Curry had a “financial incentive to induce Plaintiffs to invest with FTX”, as he continued “receiving payment for his services”. These promotions “were deceptive and unlawful” and Curry “did not properly disclose that he was being compensated by” FTX, and “he intentionally disguised or downplayed the fact that he was being paid for promoting FTX” while making “deceptive statements.”
These allegations begin on page 94. There are 5 color photos and 3 tweets. The Warriors “partnered with FTX”, and FTX became is “official crypto platform.” It was the “first international rights partner for the team.” This included their “G League Team” and its “Gaming Squad.” The Warriors affixed the FTX logo on its home court floor, released statements praising FTX. On “information and belief” the “deal was a multiyear year pact valued north of $10 million total.” The team’s sales campaign included statements released by the Warriors, advertising on their home court and during television broadcasts, a social media sales campaign, and a special line of “physical merchandise”. One promotion “required” “investors to have a funded FTX account” to participate.
The Warriors “had financial incentives to induce” class members to invest in FTX. However, this was not disclosed, and these promotions were “deceptive and unlawful” and the Warriors “knew or should have known that they were soliciting or assisting” in “unregistered securities” and “aiding and abetting FTX Group’s fraud and conversion.”
The Warriors “were on notice of the potential legal compliance risks” as the NBA “warned teams” “to ensure regulatory compliance”. The Warriors therefore “must have conducted due diligence”. These promotions were aimed at plaintiffs. Both sections contain allegations designed to provide Florida jurisdiction, including games played in Florida by the Warriors, communications between the Warriors and FTX in Florida, and advertisements directed at Florida residents on televised broadcasts against Florida teams.
Classes and Claims
There are various classes of plaintiffs, including Global Class I and Global Class II; International Class I and II; National Class I and II; Florida Subclass I and II; and Oklahoma Subclass I and II. The classes “are comprised of thousands, if not millions, of consumers globally” and there are “common questions of law and fact”. What follows are multiple pages of standard class action allegations and requirements.
The causes of actions against Curry and the Warriors begin on page 112. The first two claims are for violations of Florida law, including deceptive and unfair practices. Count Three is for civil conspiracy. Count Four is for aiding and abetting fraud. Count Five is for aiding and abetting conversion. Count Six is for declaratory judgment.
With Count Seven the claims shift to California law as “an alternative to the nationwide claims”. These include violations for unfair competition; violations of securities law; aiding and abetting fraud; aiding and abetting conversion; and civil conspiracy.
The final claims are also in the alternative, this time under Oklahoma law, including violations of the consumer protection act; violations of the uniform securities act of 1980; aiding and abetting fraud; aiding and abetting conversion; and civil conspiracy.
The prayer for relief seeks the usual class action remedies, including actual, direct, and compensatory damages, restitution and disgorgement of revenues, declaratory relief, injunctive relief if permitted, statutory and multiple damages “as appropriate”, attorneys’ fees, costs, and whatever else “as may be just and proper”, presumably including the kitchen sink and other house-hold hardware. Curry’s home court advantage was fleeting. Prior to any responsive pleading, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation sent the case back to Florida.
If the allegations are true, Curry and the Warriors took coin of the realm to promote a fraudulent scheme. They seemingly made millions of dollars while FTX’s investors were losing billions of dollars. Directly or indirectly, this meant hyping securities regulated by state and federal laws. The curious will undoubtedly wonder what due diligence was performed by either defendant, beyond counting what they would receive, or if either actually purchased FTX’s crypto products.
Curry recently proclaimed that he was the NBA’s greatest ever point guard. That can be debated. What cannot be debated is that in choosing to promote FTX he was perhaps the NBA’s worst ever financial advisor. Should he fail to settle, his cross-examination will play to a full house, and on a new court. Both defendants will use constant motion practice to delay the day of reckoning, and both likely regret that they ever heard of FTX. After all, both can pay significant damages.
FTX’s fall and resulting litigation should warn any sports entity or athlete that it must be careful about endorsing products, especially those well beyond the ken of the endorser. Curry claimed that he did not need to understand FTX to be its paid promoter. That ship has sailed. FTX may turn out to be the Titanic of the financial world, and Curry and the Warriors will be looking for lifeboats in a hostile courtroom.