In fact, Bankman-Fried could earn a longer sentence at trial than through a plea deal. His willingness to go to court may even suggest he wasn't offered a deal for pleading guilty or was offered a very bad one, which wouldn't be surprising given the apparent strength of the criminal case against him.
There are many reasons it’s nearly inconceivable that Bankman-Fried will be found innocent when his case goes to trial. To cite just one, FTX and Alameda executives Caroline Ellison and Gary Wang will be cooperating with prosecutors, and Ellison has already said she committed crimes at Bankman-Fried’s direction. There’s also the very simple and convincing fact that FTX customers' money is gone – it must have gone somewhere, and Bankman-Fried was in charge.
Further, while crypto-centric observers may see him as some exceptionally influential string-puller in Washington, the truth is that in the grand scheme of political clout, Sam Bankman-Fried is a Johnny-come-lately and a bit of a small fry. Compare him, for instance, with Kenneth Lay, CEO of Enron. Lay was very close with George W. Bush and other powerful politicians for years, but that didn’t protect him from a 2006 guilty conviction for Enron’s fraud – while his good friend W. was a sitting president.
Similarly, Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes cultivated some of the most powerful people on the planet in a very intimate way for nearly a decade – Henry Kissinger, a veritable Dark Lord of U.S. influence and power, sat on her board of directors. Compared with Holmes’ buddying up to Kissinger, Bankman-Fried’s seemingly close relationship to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler is inconsequential. And even Kissinger couldn’t help Holmes avoid a prison sentence.