Tyler Le, Rebecca Zisser/Insider
- Caroline Ellison, the former CEO of Alameda Research, pleaded guilty to wire and securities fraud.
- Her parents are both economists at MIT and she grew up “exposed to a lot of economics.”
- Her father once worked with the SEC’s Gary Gensler and her mom gave her a book about Genghis Khan.
Caroline Ellison, the former CEO of the crypto trading firm Alameda Research, has become entwined in the criminal proceedings related to FTX’s collapse.
Ellison pleaded guilty to seven charges of wire and securities fraud earlier this month. The New York Times reported that she told a district judge she was “truly sorry” for what she did and that she “knew it was wrong.”
Ellison was released on $250,000 bail.
US federal prosecutors have accused Ellison of being involved in Sam Bankman-Fried’s alleged scheme to defraud FTX customers and misappropriate their funds, with some of the money being used to prop up Alameda Research.
The Securities and Exchange Commission accused Ellison of being an “active participant” in the scheme and alleged that she manipulated the price of FTT, FTX’s in-house token, by purchasing large quantities on the open market.
The agency said this inflated the valuation of Alameda Research’s FTT holdings and caused the value of collateral on Alameda’s balance sheet to be overstated, misleading investors. It also said that Ellison was aware that Bankman-Fried made “false and misleading” statements to FTX investors.
Compared to Bankman-Fried – who Ellison once dated – the former Alameda CEO has largely stayed clear of the limelight, instead becoming notorious for her Tumblr account where she wrote about topics like crypto and polyamory. Here’s everything we know about her parents, who are both economists at MIT.
Her father, Glenn Ellison, is head of the economics department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
According to a copy of his resumé on the MIT website, he studied his bachelors at Harvard, where he was on the winning team for the Putnam Exam, his masters at Cambridge in England on a Churchill Scholarship, and his doctorate at MIT.
After two years teaching at Harvard, Ellison began working at MIT in 1994, and has since won various teaching awards. The university once described him as “a leader in the fields of economic theory, industrial organization, and financial economics.”
Ellison has been a PhD supervisor to students who went on to work as the director of economics at the DOJ’s antitrust division, a senior principal economist at Amazon, and a senior adviser at the Bank of England.
He’s also edited economic publications, written papers on how mathemathic performance can be affected by gender and school, and published a series of “Hard Math” books for school students.
“I do get kids who come up to me to tell me how much they like the book, or ask if I can autograph their book,” Ellison said in 2013.
Ellison also coached a middle-school math competition team, which his middle daughter Anna was on.
The AP reported that Ellison formerly worked with Gary Gensler when the now SEC chairman taught at MIT. As a former economics professor, it’s likely that Gensler reported to Ellison, the department’s head.
Gensler issued a statement last week condemning Caroline when the SEC filed its complaint against her. He said that she, alongside other execs, “left investors holding the bag” after FTX collapsed.
Ellison’s mother, Sara Ellison, is a senior lecturer in economics at MIT. Her research has focused on industrial organization, in particular on the pharmaceutical industry and ecommerce.
Ellison studied her bachelors at Purdue University, before progressing to Cambridge in England on a Churchill Scholarship and then to MIT for her PhD. While at Purdue, she was a member of both Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi. As a student, Ellison also played lacrosse, squash, and tennis, rowed, and was an oboe player in two Purdue orchestras.
She has also worked as a night janitor at Eli Lilly, a cashier at Dairy Queen, and as a tennis coach.
After graduating, Ellison worked at the National Bureau of Economic Research. She joined MIT in 1995 as a visiting assistant professor, and has been a senior lecturer since 1999.
Ellison has also coauthored a MOOC on data analysis for social scientists which MIT says has won awards and attracted more than 100,000 learners. She serves on the editorial board of three industrial-organization journals and has cowritten multiple papers with her husband.
Caroline’s Tumblr account gives some insight into her mother’s life and interests.
Caroline wrote that she thought as a child that her mother’s life “seemed kind of terrible.” She said her mother spent her weekends taking her kids to lessons and playdates, cleaning the house, gardening, and doing other chores.
“Even her fun was work: she’d invite friends over for dinner, but that meant hours of grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning up,” Caroline wrote. “Now I see it differently; she has a very firm conception of what a good life looks like for her family, and she works to achieve it.”
Caroline wrote on Tumblr that when she was about 11 she had to read a biography and create a presentation about why that person was a hero for a class competition. She said her mom found it “really funny” to buy her a Genghis Khan biography.
Sara also refuses to watch sad films in favor of lighthearted comedies, Caroline wrote.
“She read no novels at all; her reading tastes tended toward histories of salt or the shipping container,” Caroline wrote of her mother. “I thought this was all very sad.”
She also wrote that her mother was Catholic and was annoyed when Caroline wanted to stop attending Mass.
Sara has deactivated her Twitter account, though it’s unclear when this happened.
Because of her parents, Ellison, who has two younger sisters, grew up surrounded by numbers.
“We definitely got exposed to a lot of economics,” Ellison told Forbes in October 2021.
“From an early age my parents taught me things like the difference between correlation and causation, and how to interpret observational vs. randomized studies,” she wrote on Tumblr.
Ellison learnt about Bayesian statistics before middle school and once gave her father an economics study analyzing stuffed animal prices at Toys ‘R’ Us rather than a birthday card, Forbes reported.
Caroline’s parents were proud of her success at school. She wrote on Tumblr that when she told them she was the top-performing girl in math competitions at school, her parents would take her out for dinner to celebrate.
For part of her childhood, the Ellison family lived in a house owned by Antonin Scalia.
Caroline wrote on her Tumblr account that Scalia invited the family to visit him at the Supreme Court and said he’d reserve seats for them to watch a session, “which we actually took him up on.”
Caroline wrote on Tumblr that she supports “laissez-faire parenting.” She also wrote that from a “pretty young age,” when her mom was away, her dad let her cook food for the family. “The responsibility made me feel really cool and grown-up,” she wrote. She started drinking red wine and seltzer with dinner when she was in high school, saying it was what both her parents did, she also wrote.
Caroline still turned to her parents for support as she grew up.
“I call my dad when I’m having problems with my computer or it’s April and I realize I haven’t done my taxes yet and want someone to do them for me,” she wrote on Tumblr in 2016.