Sam Bankman-Fried, Elizabeth Holmes And 9 Other Epic Billionaire Blowups

Forbes
Published 2 months ago
Key Speakers At The Bloomberg Crypto Summit

From financial ruin to jail time, here are the big billionaire downfalls that compete with Sam Bankman-Fried’s $17 billion FTX collapse.

The world watched in shock last week as the floor fell out from under Sam Bankman-Fried. Over the course of just a few days, the 30-year-old founder and former CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX went from one of the 50 richest people in America and one of crypto’s most influential figures to the poster boy of the biggest crypto collapse to date.

A skeptical report from Coindesk about the finances of FTX’s sister company, Alameda Research, kicked off the decline. The revelation that at least $5.8 billion of Alameda’s assets were tied to FTX’s native token, FTT, caused investors to frantically withdraw their funds from the exchange. Later reports from The Wall Street Journal and others alleged that Alameda Research used as much as $10 billion of customer funds from FTX to make its bets–something that is highly illegal. Bankman-Fried essentially admitted to trading using FTX customer assets in an exchange with a Vox reporter. Bankman-Fried’s estimated fortune went from $17 billion to less than $1 billion in days. Forbes figures now it might be closer to zero. Alameda Research, FTX and FTX U.S. filed for bankruptcy on Friday, November 11, and Bankman-Fried stepped down as CEO the same day. (SBF might have hidden away some cash from a stake he reportedly sold to investors or from $2.7 billion in loans he took from Alameda Research.)

While the fallout from FTX’s implosion is still being uncovered, one thing is clear: Few other billionaires have fallen as far and as fast as Bankman-Fried. Among those who lost nearly their entire fortunes within the course of just a few days or weeks are investor Adolf Merckle, once one of Germany’s richest people who was wrecked by the 2008 financial crisis, and Kanye West, whose antisemitism proved his undoing.

Two superrich tycoons who never made the Forbes billionaires list but also had massive blowups: Bernie Madoff (d. 2021), the infamous fraudster who ran the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, and Archegos Capital Management’s Bill Hwang, whose investment firm collapsed almost overnight last year leading to an estimated $10 billion in losses for some of the world’s biggest banks.

Over the past 20 years, other fortunes have imploded for a wide variety of reasons including fraud and deceit. Many of these blowups have led to lawsuits and even jail time. That includes Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of now-defunct blood testing firm Theranos, who was sentenced on Friday to more than 11 years in prison for defrauding investors. Three others are now behind bars while one is on house arrest and another is awaiting trial.

The final page in SBF’s increasingly bizarre story has yet to be written. While the world watches to see what fate faces him and FTX, here’s a look at the biggest billionaire downfalls of recent history—and where these individuals stand today. (In descending order from most recent):

1. Kanye West: A shoe empire toppled by antisemitism

Peak net worth: $2 billion in April 2022

Net worth now: $400 million

Date of blowup: October 2022

After Kanye West put forth a stream of antisemitic comments, conspiracy theories and other controversial behavior, the rapper and designer now known as Ye was dropped by Yeezy’s key business partner Adidas in October. That followed Ye’s termination the previous month of what was supposed to be a 10-year contract with clothing retailer Gap. Also cutting ties with Ye were French fashion house Balenciaga, retailer Foot Locker, his talent agency CAA and his banker JPMorgan. Despite the meltdown of his business empire, Ye is still worth an estimated $400 million from the value of his personal real estate, music catalog, cash and a 5% stake in Skims, the $3.2 billion shapewear brand started by his ex-wife, billionaire Kim Kardashian.

2. Nirav Modi: Fugitive Jeweler

Peak net worth: $1.8 billion in 2015

Net worth now: N/A

Date of blowup: 2018

The one-time jeweler to the stars, whose high-priced baubles were adorned by the likes of Kate Winselet, Dakota Johnson and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, is now in Wandsworth Prison in southwest London fighting his extradition to India. Earlier this month, the High Court in London ordered his extradition. The Indian-origin diamantaire, who aspired to be the next Harry Winston with stores across the globe, was accused of defrauding the state-owned Punjab National Bank of $1.8 billion to fund the expansion of his now-bankrupt firm Firestar International.

Modi fled India in 2018 shortly before the scandal broke and a year later was sighted on the streets of London sporting a handlebar moustache. He was arrested shortly thereafter. The Indian authorities have been recovering Modi’s dues by seizing and selling his assets, including his much-prized art collection. The Wharton School dropout was born into a family of diamond traders and grew up in Belgium. He moved to India to learn the family trade under his uncle and struck out on his own in 1999.

Rishi Shah outcome_health29386
JAMEL TOPPIN/THE FORBES COLLECTION

3. Rishi Shah: Accused of fraud, awaiting trial

Peak net worth: $3.6 billion in 2017

Est net worth now: $0

Date of blowup: 2018

Rishi Shah turned heads as the young, college-dropout founder of buzzy healthcare media startup Outcome Health, which raised $600 million at a $5.6 billion valuation in May 2017. Within two years of Shah entering the billionaire ranks, however, he and two top executives from Outcome were charged with fraud for allegedly stealing about $1 billion from clients, lenders and investors by misrepresenting the company’s financial performance and the success of its products. The trio all pled not guilty after they were charged in 2019, and are set to stand trial in 2023.

4. John Kapoor: Disgraced drugmaker in prison

Peak net worth: $3.3 billion in 2015

Est net worth now: N/A

Date of blowup: 2017

Pharma industry entrepreneur and investor John Kapoor was the founder, CEO and chairman of opioid manufacturer Insys Therapeutics. In October 2017, Kapoor was arrested and charged with conspiring to bribe doctors to prescribe the company’s fentanyl spray Subsys, which was designed to ease cancer-related pain, to patients who didn’t need it. Insys declared bankruptcy and said it was shutting down its operations in 2019. The Indian-born businessman, who dropped out of Forbes’ billionaires rankings just months after his arrest, received a five-and-a-half year prison sentence in 2020 after a jury found him and four other Insys executives guilty of a racketeering conspiracy. He’s set to be released in August 2024, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Elizabeth Holmes
ETHAN PINES/THE FORBES COLLECTION

5. Elizabeth Holmes: One-time medical mogul sentenced to 11 years in prison

Peak net worth: $4.5 billion in 2015

Est net worth now: $0

Date of blowup: 2016

Theranos cofounder Elizabeth Holmes was once the toast of the tech world for developing a device she claimed would revolutionize blood testing by using just a drop or two of blood from a person’s fingertip. In 2015, the Stanford University dropout was the richest self-made woman in America. A year later, Forbes lowered our estimate of her net worth to nothing, after the technology proved to be unreliable and as the company faced a slew of investigations from federal agencies. In 2018, she was indicted for wire fraud. The case went to trial in 2021. During her trial, Holmes tried to pin the blame on her ex-boyfriend and Theranos’ former president and chief operating officer, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. However, jurors didn’t buy it and convicted Holmes on four charges of defrauding investors in January 2022. Pregnant with her second child, she was sentenced to more than 11 years behind bars in November 2022. Balwani was found guilty, too, and faces up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

6. Eike Batista: Once Brazil’s richest sentenced to 30 years

Peak net worth: $30 billion in 2012

Est net worth now: N/A

Date of blowup: 2013

A man with outsized ambition, Brazilian oil and gas entrepreneur Eike Batista once pledged to Forbes he would become the world’s richest person (a title that has since gone to Tesla CEO Elon Musk). For a while, it seemed possible. In early 2012, Batista was worth an estimated $30 billion as the prices of his publicly traded energy companies, housed under the parent company EBX Group, soared. But within a year, amid failures to meet production and financial targets, his energy empire began to crumble. It became clear that his flagship oil company OGX had vastly overstated its oil reserves. OGX filed for bankruptcy in 2013 after defaulting on a $45 billion bond payment, marking the largest corporate default in Latin American history. Batista was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2018 for bribing the now-imprisoned former Rio de Janeiro Governor Sergei Cabral $16.5 million in exchange for state contracts. He is reportedly living in his mansion under house arrest.

7. Vijay Mallya: Good times gone bad

Peak net worth: $1.6 billion in 2007

Est net worth now: N/A

Date of blowup: 2012

Known as “the King of Good Times” for his flamboyant lifestyle, Mallya ran United Spirits, one of India’s largest liquor companies, and the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines. After entering the aviation space in 2005, the liquor mogul racked up debts of more than $1 billion owed to numerous Indian banks as he sought to keep his struggling Kingfisher Airlines afloat. At one point the second largest domestic carrier in India, Kingfisher became insolvent and shut down in 2012; pilots and cabin staff were unpaid for months on end while Mallya continued to throw extravagant parties, Forbes reported at the time. Mallya fled to the U.K. in 2016 after defaulting on debts to lenders by State Bank of India and is believed to still be living there today; he is the subject of an extradition effort. Mallya was declared bankrupt by a British court last July, paving the way for Indian banks to seek repayments of Mallya’s outstanding debts.

8. Allen Stanford: The Ponzi prince

Peak net worth: $2.2 billion in 2008

Est net worth now: $0

Date of blowup: 2009

A fraudster who gave Bernie Madoff a run for his money, Stanford was convicted in 2012 for running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme through his Stanford Financial Group. The former billionaire made a killing for about two decades by selling fraudulent high-yielding certificates of deposit through his Antigua-based Stanford International Bank and then using the funds for dubious investments and to fund his lavish lifestyle, according to prosecutors. In 2012, he was sentenced to 110 years in prison, which he is currently serving in a high-security prison in Coleman, Florida. The victims of Stanford’s scheme have had their money returned at a slower rate than Madoff’s victims. Just over $1 billion has been recovered to date. In January 2022, a Texas judge ruled that five banks sued for $4 billion by a group of Stanford investors for allegedly facilitating the fraudster by providing him financial services would have to stand trial. The banks have denied the claims and unsuccessfully tried to dismiss the lawsuit.

9. Adolf Merckle: A financial crisis casualty

Peak net worth: $12.8 billion in 2007

Est net worth now: N/A

Date of blowup: 2008

Merckle was a German industrialist whose investment outfit got hit badly in the financial crisis of 2008. Making matters much worse was a big bet he made against Volkswagen AG, which backfired in October that year when it was revealed European car giant Porsche was vying to take over the company, sending Volkswagen’s share price soaring. Merckle sought more than $1 billion in bridge loans to cover the losses incurred by his VEM Vermoegensverwaltung conglomerate, which by that point was heavily leveraged. As his empire teetered toward collapse, Merckle took his own life by stepping in front of a train near his home in Blaubeuren, Germany in 2009. After Adolf’s death, his son Ludwig turned around the tumbling family fortune, selling off pieces but eventually recovering. He is now worth more than $5 billion.

10. Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Putin-induced collapse of Russia’s richest man.

Peak net worth: $15 billion in 2004

Est net worth now: N/A

Date of blowup: 2006

The former head of Russian oil and gas giant Yukos, Khodorkovsky was once Russia’s richest man, worth an estimated $15 billion at the height of his wealth in 2004. But after a public sparring with Putin over government corruption, Khodorkovsky was arrested and jailed for tax evasion, embezzlement and fraud, allegations he has denied and blasted as politically motivated. Yukos, once Russia’s largest oil company, was broken apart and declared bankrupt in 2006; most of its assets were absorbed by the state-controlled oil company RosneftKhodorkovsky was pardoned in 2013 and has since relocated to London, where he remains a vocal critic of Putin. “The world will not be a safe place as long as Putin remains in power,” the former billionaire said in May at the Milken Institute’s annual conference.

This story was updated on November 20 to include Nirav Modi’s blowup in place of Anil Ambani’s.