Disgraced FTX boss Sam Bankman-Fried had brought his psychiatrist on board the failing company to serve as a coach for the stressed-out employees.
The 30-year-old had hired his psychiatrist, Dr. George Lerner, to come on board the cryptocurrency exchange early last year, and announced his hiring at a company-wide meeting.
Lerner, 46, had told them to consult with him about any workplace issues. Soon he started seeing nearly one-third of the company’s workforce in his capacity as a coach, with 20 attending his private practice.
He has described the culture at the doomed crypto exchange as being ‘undersexed’ as he denied that the employees all did amphetamines to work long, strenuous hours.
Lerner is not accused of any wrongdoing, and is now trying to rebuild his private practice as he seeks to distance himself from the scandalous company.
Disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried had recruited Dr. George Lerner to join the team as an in-house coach
Lerner earned his medical degree in 2004 from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, and completed his residency at the University of California San Francisco — a top-rated psychiatry program.
From there, he went on to run his own psychiatry practice in San Francisco’s Union Square, seeing patients in the tech, crypto and venture capital fields. He specialized in treating depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
One of his clients was Bankman-Fried, who started seeing him in 2019 and continues to be a patient of Dr. Lerner’s to this day, receiving treatment for ADHD and depression, a spokesman told the Wall Street Journal.
Lerner has said Bankman-Fried — who has spoken openly about experimenting with focus-enhancing drugs, had some nervous habits, like rapidly tapping his feet that he would try to calm down with video games.
He said he also provided Bankman-Fried with a fidget spinner.
Lerner moved to the Bahamas to serve as FTX’s in=house coach in June, offering his coaching services to the millennial FTX employees 32 hours a week, the New York Times previously reported, while also keeping a small practice on the side.
At the Bahamas-based crypto exchange, he saw about 100 of the company’s 300 employees for coaching, including 20 to 40 he saw on a semi-regular basis, he told the Wall Street Journal.
Separately, he saw about 20 FTX employees as patients in his private practice.
He said his main goal at the crypto exchange was to create ‘a more sustainable work environment.
‘They were amazing people — driven, brilliant, wanting to make a positive impact on the world,’ Lerner told the Journal.
He noted, though, ‘conflict resolution was the toughest, as most of my work has historically been with individuals.’
Lerner has said the company was ‘tame’ with employees working late into the night at their office in the Bahamas
Lerner joined the Bahamas firm in June, after serving as Sam Bankman-Fried’s psychiatrist since 2019
Rumors have circulated that employees took amphetamines to keep working into the night
Many former employees praised Lerner’s hiring as a sign of the company’s progressive attitude toward mental health.
But others said they worried about Dr. Lerner’s closeness to SBF, so much so that they held back from revealing too much in their coaching sessions.
Lerner, though, insists he kept his coaching interactions in strict confidence, and was careful to separate his medical practice from his role as an FTX coach.
Any employees that saw him, for example, were asked to sign a form stating he was their coach not their psychiatrist.
And former employees who saw Dr. Lerner for coaching have said he made it clear that he could not get them medications such as Adderall to treat ADHD or Xanax to treat anxiety.
He would then treat his San Francisco-based patients on trips back to California.
Lerner is not a registered physician in the Bahamas, according to the Bahamas Medical Database. But California’s medical board says it allows doctors to treat patients via telehealth ‘from anywhere in the world’ so long as the patient is in California.
Lerner said he tried to set up mixers with the employees and those in other businesses in the Bahamas but they were too busy
Lerner has previously described the culture at FTX as being ‘tame,’ telling the New York Times that employees spent much of their days inside the office.
He said he was worried about their social lives and focused on helping the employees go out on dates.
‘I was very concerned that people’s happiness would be reduced by lack of dating opportunities outside a big city, or that they would feel compelled to leave the company due to this,’ Lerner told the Journal.
He said he had tried to organize mixers with other companies in the Bahamas, but people were too busy to attend.
The psychiatrist said that the atmosphere at the crypto exchange became more tense over the spring and summer as the crypto market plummeted, attributing it to the fact that many employees had their own crypto investments that were losing value and they were worried about the firm’s financial health.
Unbeknownst to him, at around the same time, FTX began using customer funds to repay loans taken out by Alameda Research.
But Lerner said he saw no indication that anything was wrong, explaining: ‘The kind of stuff we talked about was mostly like: “Are the employees happy? How do we keep them happy? What is the most effective, efficient way for the organization to be organized?”‘
‘I never dealt with the product, and he never talked to me about the product,’ Lerner said of the 30-year-old former billionaire.
Lerner has said Bankman-Fried — who has spoken openly about experimenting with focus-enhancing drugs, had some nervous habits, like rapidly tapping his feet that he would try to calm down with video games
The disgraced former billionaire is charged with eight counts of fraud and conspiracy. He has pleaded not guilty to allegations he misused FTX customers’ funds
After the crypto exchange collapsed in November, Lerner stuck around to counsel those who remained, including senior employees who were struggling to keep FTX afloat.
When some distressed employees seemed to be at risk of suicide, the Journal reports, Lerner organized efforts to care for them, encouraging them to get back outside or urging others to keep a watchful eye on them.
He also helped some employees make travel arrangements to leave the Bahamas and get psychological care at home.
‘People were devastated,’ he said. ‘They had lost their FTX family.’
He told the Journal he is now focused on rebuilding his San Francisco practice, but his website has been stripped down, offering only some contact information.
Meanwhile, FTX’s new management asked a judge late last month to approve subpoenas to obtain a broad assessment of internal communications, including those between SBF and Lerner in its attempts to recover FTX assets.
He said in an email to the Journal he wasn’t an attorney, noting the request was ‘probably pretty standard for a bankruptcy case.’
He is accused of defrauding investors and diverting billions of dollars in FTX customer money to his hedge fund which he then used as a piggy bank to fund his lavish lifestyle, personal investments and political donations
Bankman-Fried is charged with eight counts of fraud and conspiracy. He has pleaded not guilty to allegations he misused FTX customers’ funds.
FTX filed for bankruptcy on November 11 after it struggled to raise enough money to stave off collapse. The crash exposed an $8 billion hole in FTX’s accounts.
It left investors – which included footballer Tom Brady and former white house communications director Anthony Scaramucci – scrambling to recoup their funds.
Bankman-Fried was sensationally arrested in the Bahamas in December by US prosecutors and extradited back to the United States.
He is accused of defrauding investors and diverting billions of dollars in FTX customer money to his hedge fund which he then used as a piggy bank to fund his lavish lifestyle, personal investments and political donations.
If found guilty of all charges, he may be sentenced to life in jail.