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At the Courthouse
Joe Lewis, Sam Bankman-Fried, an ex-con who wants a date, a smiling German tourist and a fellow would-be jurist meet in lower Manhattan
I’m running late when I pass a dozen reporters standing behind police barricades by the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in downtown Manhattan. There are often news cameras here, if not this many at 1pm on a Tuesday, and on my way back, maybe I’ll try to find out why.
“British football club owner Joe Lewis, he’s a billionaire,” a newsman tells me 45 minutes later, when there are twice as many press people with video and long-lens cameras, more than seem warranted for Lewis, owner of the Tottenham Hotspur English soccer club and charged with insider trading.
I absolutely am not saying that I know anything firsthand about insider trading, but as the daughter of a stockbroker, I’ve always found it improbably that that people will not pass along tips to enrich themselves and others. Still, Lewis seems to have been particularly profligate, telling his girlfriend, an assistant, and his two pilots to invest in a pharmaceutical company whose hedge fund he controlled, and loaning the pilots $500,000 to do so. As outlined in the indictment, one of the pilots texted a friend to say be believed “the Boss has inside info… otherwise why would he make us invest.” Which seemed to me pretty reckless of the Boss, who is reportedly worth $6.5 billion, or was.
“What’s the guy’s name?” asks the rabbity guy next to me, in oversized glasses and work-pants cut at the knee. I tell him.
“Like the boxer,” he says. Yes, but spelled L-E-W-I-S.
“Oh, you’re smart,” he says, and tells me he’s an artist; that he’s part of a Puerto Rican superhero convection; that he’s 50 and has “three grand-babies,” and also that he’s moving to Madrid.
“They’re gonna fix my teeth there,” he says, showing a crowded set of uppers. “Also get these neck tattoos off. I got them in jail. Did 17 years for guns. I’m out now - or almost out.”
That all sounds great…
“Yeah, and you’re a pretty woman. You want to go on a date?”
I’m good, I’m taken.
“Then why don’t you give me your number?”
Dude, I’m working, I tell him, though I’m really not; I’m watching the press corps as much as the courthouse doors, thinking it’s not a bad beat, to show up here at lunchtime every day, sit on the marble wall across the street and watch the people skim past one another, the young female office workers in rayon dresses and flat shoes, the e-bike delivery guys slowing for one glance, lawyers walking fast and talking into their phones, the press clicking cameras and calling questions at the accused, men and women forced to endure public humiliation or triumph, and it’s all walking distance from my house.
“You tell me please who are the people here for?” asks a tall smiling German. There are many German tourists in the city in July, and seemingly many from the American south, all of whom I want to tell to come back in the fall, when it’s not 95 degrees with air conditioners dripping on our heads and when the rats are not as brazen. I think to tell the German about the rat who recently walked step-for-step with me up from the subway, like he was my boyfriend or something. Instead, I tell him it’s Joe Lewis people are here for, and what he’s accused of, which he seems to find amusing and then with the rest of his family, melts west on Pearl Street.
“The thing about crypto is, it’s not based on anything and that makes people nervous,” says a young guy behind me at the curb. He reminds me the First Time Hearing twins (which someone told me is faked, which makes me sad) and is talking crypto currency with a guy who looks like a young Adam Sandler. I bought my car in crypto earnings, I tell them.
“Well you got in and out at the right time,” says Twin. “Most people aren’t smart and they’re going to lose money.”
“How is that different from any other currency?” asks Sandler.
“People want the security of knowing it’s backed up by the government or something,” says Twin.
But also some don’t want that; they want something new; it’s all about hope and risk-reward…
“Well that didn’t too well for him,” says Twin, looking toward the courthouse doors. “FTX isn’t worth anything now.”
Wait, Lewis had something to do with FTX?
“No. Sam Bankman-Fried,” says Sandler. “That’s who’s in there.”
“He says he saw a guy with bushy hair going in,” says Sandler, looking at Twin.
“Yeah, I think it was him,” says Twin. I scroll through images on my phone and show him a photo of SBF.
“Yup,” he says, which makes the throng of press people make more sense. Also, I tell them, SBF was incredibly bad at the con, that they didn’t even keep books.
“That’s why people need protection!” insists Twin.
“Do you know what’s going on here?” asks a guy with a couple of pre-teens in tow. We tell him, maybe Sam Bankman-Fried.
“You kids want to stay?” he asks, a question that inspires a panicky half-smile on his freckled daughter, I can feel Columbus Park just up the street pulling on her, a park where I often see vaguely felonious men doing pull-ups as their children, or someone’s children, play at their feet. Right across the street is a Chinese funeral home, where there are often hearses and gigantic flower arrangements, and around the corner on Mosco Street, Bangkok Grocery, where I buy huge bags of rice and outside of which is a nice mural.
“I gotta get back to jury duty,” says Sandler. I just did mine on Monday, I tell him; didn’t get picked, but I wanted to, that the whole thing felt like an honor.
“I agree! It’s very cool to be part of that system,” he says, just before there’s a shimmy in the press, and then a sprint, everyone and their equipment taking off. I take off, too, though I’m not sure why. What am I going to do, take a video of Lewis and his lawyer getting into a yellow cab?
“You think he’d have enough money to hire a car or an Uber,” said a newsman, as we truck back to the courthouse. Was he going to wait there until SBF came out? Indeed.
This week’s recommendations:
Read John Hersey’s Hiroshima, which first ran in its entirely on August 23, 1946 in The New Yorker and is free to read there. I’ve also just put a hold on Freefall: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World, and if you are wondering whether this has to do with seeing the movie Oppenheimer, in fact going full Barbenheimer, you can learn more about that here.
“You Probably Think This Song is About You,” by William Todd Schultz, an essay about his father’s narcissism that includes the line, "[My dad] told me once, on the Fourth of July, 'The secret to my life is I’ve always needed someone to hate.' Clearly, the first someone he hated was himself." And while it only gets a nod here, Schultz is the brother of Julienne Bušić, who with her late husband hijacked a TWA airliner in 1976 and set a bomb in Grand Central Station that would kill a police officer.
On August 2, watch the premiere of Reservation Dogs, season 3, also its last season. There has never been a show like it - don’t take my word for it. Does my daughter, who’s worked as the set decorator on the entire series, appear fleetingly in the opening episode? May-be…