Online poker companies indicted for fraud
By Ben Rooney, staff reporterApril 15, 2011: 4:40 PM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The founders of the three largest Internet poker companies have been indicted for running illegal gambling operations, federal law enforcement officials said Friday.
The United States Attorney in New York unsealed the indictment against eleven people, including the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker. The charges include bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling offenses.
The sweeping 52-page indictment alleges that the companies, based offshore, used "fraudulent methods" to get around U.S. anti-gambling laws "and to receive billions of dollars from U.S. residents who gambled through the Poker Companies."
The authorities also issued restraining orders against more than 75 bank accounts, and seized five Internet domain names used by the companies to host their illegal poker games.
The companies allegedly arranged for the money from U.S. gamblers to be disguised as payments to hundreds of non-existent online merchants for the purchase of jewelry and golf balls, according to the indictment.
The defendants include Isai Scheinberg and Paul Tate of Poker Stars; Raymond Bitar and Nelson Burtnick of Full Tilt Poker; and Scott Tom and Brent Beckley of Absolute Poker.
"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," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
Prosecutors also filed civil charges against the poker companies and several individual "payment processors," seeking at least $3 billion in penalties.
The payment processors, Ryan Lang, Ira Rubin, Bradley Franzen and Chad Elie, allegedly obtained U.S. bank accounts that the poker companies used to launder gambling money.
Prosecutors also alleged that John Campos, a part owner of SunFirst Bank in Utah, agreed to process Internet gambling transactions in exchange for a $10 million investment in his bank by one of the other defendants.
Campos and Elie were arrested Friday, prosecutors said. Franzen is scheduled to appear for his arraignment Tuesday in New York.
Prosecutors said they are working with Interpol and foreign agencies to secure the arrest of the remaining defendants, who are not presently in the United States.
"These defendants, knowing full well that their business with U.S. customers and U.S. banks was illegal, tried to stack the deck," said Janice Fedarcyk, FBI assistant director-in-charge. "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."