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04|15|2011 02:41 pm EDT

US Government Seizes Poker Domains, Charges Principals

by Frank Michlick in Categories: Legal Issues

The US government seized the domains for Poker Stars, Absolute Poker, and Full Tilt Poker and charged the site principals with bank fraud, illegal gambling offenses and laundering billions in illegal gambling proceeds.

 

 

See the full press release after the jump

MANHATTAN U.S. ATTORNEY CHARGES PRINCIPALS OF THREE LARGEST INTERNET POKER COMPANIES WITH BANK FRAUD, ILLEGAL GAMBLING OFFENSES AND LAUNDERING BILLIONS IN ILLEGAL GAMBLING PROCEEDS

Multi-Billion Dollar Civil Money Laundering And Forfeiture Action Also Filed

Internet Domain Names Used By The Poker Companies Seized

PREET BHARARA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and JANICE FEDARCYK, the Assistant-Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the unsealing of an Indictment today charging eleven defendants, including the founders of the three largest Internet poker companies doing business in the United States – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker (the “Poker Companies”)- with bank fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling offenses. The United States also filed a civil money laundering and in rem forfeiture
complaint (the “Civil Complaint”) against the Poker Companies, their assets, and the assets of several payment processors for the Poker Companies. In addition, restraining orders were issued against more than 75 bank accounts utilized by the Poker Companies and their payment processors, and five Internet domain names used by the Poker Companies to host their illegal poker games were seized.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney PREET BHARARA said: “As charged, these defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively
bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits. Moreover, as we allege, in their zeal to circumvent the gambling laws, the defendants also engaged in
massive money laundering and bank fraud. Foreign firms that choose to operate in the United States are not free to flout the laws they don’t like simply because they can’t bear to be parted
from their profits.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge JANICE K. FEDARCYK said: “These defendants, knowing full well that their business
with U.S. customers and U.S. banks was illegal, tried to stack
the deck. They lied to banks about the true nature of their
business. Then, some of the defendants found banks willing to
flout the law for a fee. The defendants bet the house that they
could continue their scheme, and they lost.”
According to the Indictment and the Civil Complaint
unsealed today:
On October 13, 2006, the United States enacted the
Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (“UIGEA”), making it a
federal crime for gambling businesses to “knowingly accept” most
forms of payment “in connection with the participation of another
person in unlawful Internet gambling.” Despite the passage of
UIGEA, the Poker Companies, located offshore, continued operating
in the United States. In a press release dated October 16, 2006,
Absolute Poker announced that the company would continue its U.S.
operations because “the U.S. Congress has no control over” the
company’s payment transactions.
Because U.S. banks and credit card issuers were largely
unwilling to process their payments, the Poker Companies
allegedly used fraudulent methods to circumvent federal law and
trick these institutions into processing payments on their
behalf. For example, defendants ISAI SCHEINBERG and PAUL TATE of
PokerStars, RAYMOND BITAR and NELSON BURTNICK of Full Tilt Poker,
and SCOTT TOM and BRENT BECKLEY of Absolute Poker, arranged for
the money received from U.S. gamblers to be disguised as payments
to hundreds of non-existent online merchants purporting to sell
merchandise such as jewelry and golf balls. Of the billions of
dollars in payment transactions that the Poker Companies tricked
U.S. banks into processing, approximately one-third or more of
the funds went directly to the Poker Companies as revenue through
the “rake” charged to players on almost every poker hand played
online.
As alleged in the Indictment, to accomplish their
fraud, the Poker Companies worked with an array of highly
compensated “payment processors” – including defendants RYAN
LANG, IRA RUBIN, BRADLEY FRANZEN, and CHAD ELIE – who obtained
-2accounts
at U. S. banks for the Poker Companies. The payment
processors lied to banks about the nature of the financial
transactions they were processing, and covered up those lies, by,
among other things, creating phony corporations and websites to
disguise payments to the Poker Companies. For example, a
PokerStars document from May 2009 acknowledged that they received
money from U.S. gamblers through company names that “strongly
imply the transaction has nothing to do with PokerStars,” and
that PokerStars used whatever company names “the processor can
get approved by the bank.”
By late 2009, after U.S. banks and financial
institutions detected and shut down multiple fraudulent bank
accounts used by the Poker Companies, SCHEINBERG and BITAR
developed a new processing strategy that would not involve lying
to banks. PokerStars, FullTilt Poker, and their payment
processors persuaded the principals of a few small, local banks
facing financial difficulties to engage in such processing in
return for multi-million dollar investments in the banks. For
example, in September 2009, ELIE and others approached defendant
JOHN CAMPOS, the Vice Chairman of the Board and part-owner of
SunFirst Bank, a small, private bank based in Saint George, Utah,
about processing Internet poker transactions. While expressing
“trepidations,” CAMPOS allegedly agreed to process gambling
transactions in return for a $10 million investment in SunFirst
by ELIE and an associate, which would give them a more than 30%
ownership stake in the bank. CAMPOS also requested and received
a $20,000 “bonus” for his assistance. In an e-mail, one of
ELIE’s associates boasted that they had “purchased” SunFirst and
that they “were looking to purchase” “a grand total of 3 or 4
banks” to process payments.
The Indictment and Civil Complaint seek at least $3
billion in civil money laundering penalties and forfeiture from
the Poker Companies and the defendants. The District Court
issued an order restraining approximately 76 bank accounts in 14
countries containing the proceeds of the charged offenses.
Pursuant to a warrant for arrest in rem issued by the U.S.
District Court, the United States also seized five Internet
domain names used by the Poker Companies to operate their illegal
online businesses in the United States.
* * *
Defendants CAMPOS and ELIE were arrested this morning
in Saint George, Utah and Las Vegas, Nevada, respectively. ELIE
will appear later today before a U. S. Magistrate Court Judge in
Las Vegas, Nevada. CAMPOS will appear before a U.S. Magistrate
-3Court
Judge in Saint George, Utah on April 18, 2011. Defendant
FRANZEN is expected to appear for his arraignment on April 19,
2011 in the Southern District of New York. Defendants BITAR,
SCHEINBERG, BURTNICK, TATE, TOM, BECKLEY, RUBIN and LANG are not
presently in the United States and have not yet been arrested.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York
is working with foreign law enforcement agencies and Interpol to
secure the arrest of these defendants and the seizure of criminal
proceeds located abroad. BITAR, TOM, RUBIN, BECKLEY, CAMPOS,
ELIE, and FRANZEN are U. S. citizens. A chart identifying each
defendant, the charges, and the maximum penalties, is attached to
this release.
U.S.
Attorney PREET BHARARA praised the FBI for its
outstanding leadership in the investigation, which he noted is
ongoing. Mr. BHARARA also thanked Immigration and Customs
Enforcement’s New York and New Jersey offices, and the Washington
State Gambling Commission, for their assistance in the
investigation.
The matters announced today are being handled by the
Office’s Complex Frauds and Asset Forfeiture Units. Assistant
U.S.
Attorneys ARLO DEVLIN-BROWN and NICOLE FRIEDLANDER are in
charge of the criminal case, and Assistant U. S. Attorneys SHARON
COHEN LEVIN, MICHAEL LOCKARD and JASON COWLEY are in charge of
the civil money laundering and forfeiture actions.
The charges contained in the Indictment and Civil
Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed
innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Press Release: ??Manhatten US Attorney Charges Principals of Three Largest Internet Poker Companies (PDF)

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7 Comments

Alan

April 15, 2011 @ 3:01 pm EDT

Great to see more tax dollars wasted with this idiotic vendetta.

JS

April 15, 2011 @ 3:15 pm EDT

The power of money, simply amazing

Kevin Davis

April 15, 2011 @ 3:32 pm EDT

Wow that was fast since they just legalized online gaming in DC. Hmmm

Danno

April 15, 2011 @ 4:50 pm EDT

Hi Frank & Adam…

Hi,

Huge news…

I think some of the biggest (famous) poker players in the world may get caught up in all this…as I am not 100% positive…but I think some of them have some kind of ownership in some of these poker companies…especially @ pokerstars .net

Speculation on my part…but I am quite sure we will find out soon enough.

____

*** Funny thing is…a day or so ago, they “Legalized” online poker for: Washington DC***

http://www.tightpoker.com/news/washington-dc-legalizes-online-poker-2338/

____

Have a great weekend all,
Dan

OHBAMA STAKES

April 18, 2011 @ 10:03 pm EDT

US GOV? SHUTS DOWN AN INTERNET DOMAIN THAT THEY CANT TAX. THEY WILL BACKDOOR A WEBSITE. HOLDING POKER(STARS) CELEBRITIES WITH ONE HANDCUFF ON. WATCH FOR THE LATEST-GREATEST WEBSITE FEATURING ALL YOURE FAVORITE CARD PLAYERS. PEACE

dnnews

April 19, 2011 @ 12:04 am EDT

@Ohbama: Your CAPS key is stuck.

Ron

April 20, 2011 @ 11:02 pm EDT

What is this going to do to the value of gambling domain names?

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