Gossip that top executives at bankrupt crypto giant FTX were enmeshed in a sex-fueled “polycule” is exaggerated at best, according to a former employee — who claims they instead spent their free time on nerdy pursuits like board games, hackathons and role-playing sessions.
Rumors of a polyamorous clique of crypto nerds at FTX have run rampant since last fall – particularly focused on Sam Bankman-Fried, the 31-year-old kingpin whose epic fraud trial is slated to begin Monday in Manhattan federal court; and his ex-girlfriend Caroline Ellison, the 28-year-old former boss of FTX’s hedge fund Alameda Research who is expected to testify against him.
Ellison — a bespectacled, Stanford-educated, self-professed “Harry Potter” fanatic — helped fuel the speculation by posting sentiments about polyamory online, declaring in a blog post that the “only acceptable style of poly” was an “imperial Chinese harem” where participants kept “a ranking of their partners” and “vicious power struggles for the higher ranks.”
Nevertheless, Aditya Baradwaj, a former software engineer at FTX sister firm Alameda Research who reported directly to Ellison, threw cold water on the hot-and-heavy gossip.
“If there were orgies, I lived right next door,” Baradwaj told The Post. “I would have heard it from my balcony.”
Baradwaj added, “If you gave them some alcohol and left them alone in a room, they would end up playing board games. I’m very confident that there was no polycule.”
Representatives for Bankman-Fried and Ellison declined to comment.
Bankman-Fried’s love life will be picked apart during the ex-billionaire’s federal fraud trial.
Bankman-Fried was jailed last month after leaking Ellison’s personal writings to the press, including diary entries in which she fretted the pair were “making things weird” and “causing drama” at the office.
Baradwaj, however, said the couple — despite Bankman-Fried revealing he felt “claustrophobic” towards the end, according to court documents — caused “no awkwardness or drama in the office” despite their frequent breakups.
“It was known that they had a thing, but if you didn’t know that information through gossip, you wouldn’t see that,” Baradwaj said. “There was no PDA, there were no lovers’ quarrels – at least not in public. It was never something that spilled over into work.”
According to Baradwaj, five couples lived in the $40 million penthouse, known as The Orchid, including Bankman-Fried and Ellison, who shared a room when their relationship was intact.
Others who lived there with their girlfriends were FTX engineering chief Nishad Singh and FTX chief technology officer Gary Wang.
Like Ellison, Singh and Wang have pleaded guilty to fraud charges and are set to testify during Bankman-Fried’s trial.
The penthouse at the Albany complex served as a “company social space,” according to Baradwaj.
Employees had the access code and could freely enter, which would have made it difficult for FTX’s leaders to conceal a polycule from the staff.
“It’s possible that Caroline was polyamorous in the past and maybe even then,” Baradwaj added. “But if she was, it was not a big polycule thing.”
Instead of wild sex orgies, Baradwaj said Ellison liked to stage live-action role-playing games, also known as LARPS – a kind of improv performance where participants are assigned roles and act them out.
On one occasion, Ellison created a “LARP” that Baradwaj described as a revisionist history re-enactment of the founding of the Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas.
Employees impersonated historical figures who lived in the Bahamas, including Ernest Hemingway and Bahamian journalist Étienne Dupuch.
“We had hackathons at Orchid. We had social events and dinners at Orchid,” Baradwaj said. “Caroline’s LARP was there. Also, we knew all of these people. I know for a fact that these folks were not having orgies.”
Baradwaj — who previously told The Post that he felt Bankman-Fried was “definitely guilty” of the federal charges — blamed the polyamory rumors on what he described as “a game of telephone between different arms of the media.”
His account matches that of Dr. George K. Lerner, a psychiatrist who reportedly served as an adviser at FTX and as a therapist to some of the company’s employees.
Last December, Lerner rejected the notion that Bankman-Fried, Ellison and other FTX leaders were part of a polycule and described the company’s “higher-ups” as “undersexed, if anything.”
Media scrutiny over whether FTX executives were polyamorous irritated Bankman-Fried, who grumbled about the situation last November.
“We, as a society, have, in my opinion, in my humble opinion, have spent about enough time this week trying to figure out whether anyone living in Albany was polyamorous,” Bankman-Fried said during a call with influencer Tiffany Fong. “I feel like I’ve answered that question a lot, and the answer is too boring for people to, like, believe.”
Ellison has already pleaded guilty to fraud charges and is expected to be a key witness for the feds, who alleged that Bankman-Fried stole billions in FTX customer funds – some of which was used to prop up risky bets at Alameda.