When FTX Trading Ltd. and over 100 affiliated firms filed Chapter 11 proceedings in November 2022, they left thousands of creditors empty-handed with billions of dollars’ worth of claims.

FTX was an exchange or marketplace where customers could trade in crypto assets.

In the wake of the filing, creditors are seeking recovery in the bankruptcy court in Delaware, and the Department of Justice is pursuing a criminal action in New York for wire fraud against FTX’s co-founder, Sam Bankman-Fried.

Meanwhile, class action lawyers have been looking for deeper pockets to make their clients whole.

Suits have been filed against Bankman-Fried and the other officers involved with the debtors. Another class action, brought by well-known lawyer David Boies, targets so-called FTX “Brand Ambassadors” including celebrities Larry David, Tom Brady, Stephen Curry, and Shaquille O’Neal.

The latest suit was filed May 5 in federal court in San Francisco against Sequoia Capital Operations, LLC, the prominent Menlo Park firm known for early backing of Apple, Inc. and Google, among many other Silicon Valley start-ups.

The plaintiffs also asserted claims against FTX’s accounting firms, Armanino LLP of San Ramon and Prager Metis CPAS, Inc. of New York.

Following the dollars

The plaintiffs and proposed class representatives are individuals who opened accounts on the FTX platform in order to buy and sell crypto currencies. They allege that they have lost all the funds they entrusted to FTX.

The suit recites agreements that allegedly assured the plaintiffs that their monies would be “segregated” from FTX’s assets and their “digital assets shall at all times remain with you and shall not transfer to FTX trading.”

The complaint alleges that notwithstanding these assurances, Bankman-Fried took customer monies deposited with FTX and secretly transferred them to a sister company, Alameda Research, that he also owned.

Sam Bankman-Fried announces new funding for FTX Trading Ltd. (FTX) on his Twitter account on July 20, 2021, in this screen grab from the class action complaint filed against Sequoia Capital Operations LLC, Armanino LLP, and Prager Metis CPAS, LLC. (U.S. District Court Northern District of California via Pagransen)

Alameda was a trading company operating in Hong Kong that invested in crypto and other digital assets. Alameda also allegedly supported Bankman-Fried’s “opulent lifestyle” and “life of luxury.”

Plaintiffs claim that Sequoia should bear responsibility for the proposed class member’s losses because it “knowingly poured hundreds of millions of dollars into FTX, essentially funding the scheme by which FTX directed customer deposits to Alameda ...”

The complaint also accuses Sequoia of “pushing an aggressive public relationship campaign to build trust for FTX and Sequoia’s investment and to prop up Alameda.”

Plaintiffs say that Sequoia “did not do its homework” on FTX because of “FOMO” or fear of missing out on a potentially lucrative investment. And once it had invested, it widely promoted its relationship with FTX and Bankman-Fried in the hope that its investment would be lucrative.

No mere mortal

The complaint recounts an instance where one of Sequoia’s partners allegedly introduced Bankman-Fried at a large tech conference so effusively it was as if he was “more than a founder, but almost as a god.”

Sequoia knew or should have known that customer funds were moved from FTX to Alameda “to pay off its debts and to enrich Bankman-Fried,” according to the plaintiffs.

The complaint asserts that “Sequoia substantially assisted and facilitated this scheme by investing over $200 million into FTX to fund its operations and brand marketing.”

The plaintiffs claim that Sequoia’s actions arise to aiding and abetting the fraud committed by Bankman-Fried and FTX.

With respect to the accounting firms, plaintiffs assert they “audited the key FTX entities and certified that the companies had satisfactory internal controls in place to protect Class Member funds, despite knowing full well that such controls were not in place.”

The case joins several other cases in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California arising out of the FTX collapse, included two against Sequoia and venture capital firms Thoma Bravo LP and Paradigm Operations LP’s.

Request for comment from Sequoia’s counsel were not immediately returned.

Joe Dworetzky is a second career journalist. He practiced law in Philadelphia for more than 35 years, representing private and governmental clients in commercial litigation and insolvency proceedings. Joe served as City Solicitor for the City of Philadelphia under Mayor Ed Rendell and from 2009 to 2013 was one of five members of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission with responsibility for managing the city’s 250 public schools. He moved to San Francisco in 2011 and began writing fiction and pursuing a lifelong interest in editorial cartooning. Joe earned a Master’s in Journalism from Stanford University in 2020. He covers Legal Affairs and writes long form Investigative stories. His occasional cartooning can be seen in Bay Area Sketchbook. Joe encourages readers to email him story ideas and leads at [email protected].