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FBI and Department of Justice shut down online poker

[ Posted April 16th, 2011 ] by BENjTRON

Earlier today the FBI and Department of Justice replaced the usual content on the websites of Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet with this image.

Click for larger

It is expected that the online poker companies involved will be fined around $3 Billion dollars for breaches.

THE REAL STORY

an indictment against the founders of online poker’s “big three” was unsealed by federal authorities. According to MarketWatch.com, the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker were indicted on charges of bank fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling. There were also restraining orders issued against over 75 bank accounts used by the online poker companies and their payment processors, as well as five Internet domain names.

The U.S. Department of Justice released a press release on the indictment, and in it, 11 defendants are named: Isai Scheinberg, Raymond Bitar, Scott Tom, Brent Beckley, Nelson Burtnick, Paul Tate, Ryan Lang, Bradley Franzen, Ira Rubin, Chad Elie, and John Campos. Scheinberg and Tate are identified in the indictment as representing PokerStars, Bitar and Burtnick of representing Full Tilt Poker and Tom and Beckley of representing Absolute Poker. Lang, Rubin, Franzen and Elie are identified as people who allegedly ran payment processors.

The charges are based on the Illegal Gambling Business Act of 1955 and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. These are the same charges previously brought against payment processors used by the sites that have been shut down.

The allegations center around poker companies allegedly using fraudulent methods to circumvent federal law and trick U.S. banks into processing payments after the passage of UIGEA.

In the press release, 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.”

At least $3 billion in civil money-laundering penalties from both the poker companies and defendants is being sought. According to the indictment, Campos and Elie were arrested Friday morning in Utah and Las Vegas, Nevada, respectively. Franzen is expected to appear in court for his arraignment on April 19, 2011. Those who are not in the U.S. — Scheinberg, Bitar, Burtnick, Tate, Tom, Beckley, Rubin, and Lang — have not been arrested, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York is working with foreign law enforcement agencies and Interpol to arrest the defendants.

11:55 a.m. PDT: PokerNews has attempted to contact all three online poker sites, and thus far, only UB/AP has replied and has no comment at this time.

12:26 p.m. PDT: PokerStars has blocked U.S. players from real money games.

1:00 p.m. PDT: If there is any bright side to this black Friday, it could be that this DOJ affront makes it clear to Congressional leaders like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that federal legislation to officially legalize online poker must move quickly.

“At Safe and Secure Initiative, we’ve always fought to give every American the right to gamble online,” said Michael Waxman, executive director of the industry trade association Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative. “Since the government is seeking to crack down on the freedom of the internet, we need Congress to act more than ever now to legalize and regulate the activity. This is a major development that will bring more attention to this issue. I hope it encourages Congress to move more quickly, especially as concerned Americans look for answers and a solution.”

It could also spark online poker players, with their livelihood attacked, to band together more than ever before and make their voices heard.

“Clearly there are millions of Americans who enjoy gambling online,” Waxman said. “If the opportunity to engage in the activity is taken away, they should focus their attention on encouraging their elected representatives to act on this issue and regulate online gambling.”

1:25 p.m. PDT: “On behalf of the millions of poker players across the country, we are shocked at the action taken by the U.S. Department of Justice today against online poker companies and will continue to fight for Americans’ right to participate in the game they enjoy,” said former Senator Alfonse D’Amato, chairman of the Poker Players Alliance. “Online poker is not a crime and should not be treated as such. We are currently gathering all of the information around today’s announcement and will offer detailed analysis when the full facts become available.”

1:57 p.m. PDT: PokerNews has contacted Bodog for a comment on the recent events, and according to a Bodog representative it is “business as usual at Bodog for U.S. customers.”

2:00 p.m. PDT: The Courier-Mail newspaper in Australia is reporting that it is believed that Daniel Tzvetkoff is assisting federal lawyers in the Southern District of New York, the branch of the DOJ behind today’s affront. Tzvetkoff was arrested April 16 of last year in Las Vegas and charged with the same counts the site owners are being charged with today for allegedly processing $523 million in Internet gambling earnings through his payment processing company Intabill. Though he was originally denied bail as a flight risk, the Courier-Mail reports he was released on bail in August after cooperating with federal authorities, and is living in a secret location in New York City. The arrests today of the people who allegedly ran payment processors could be a move to get more people knowledgeable of the business transactions of the Internet poker sites to co-operate against the sites.

2:40 p.m. PDT: The 11 defendants listed above are each being charged with four counts — violation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, operation of an illegal gambling business, conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. These charges can carry hefty penalties. The maximum penalty for violation of the UIGEA and operating a gambling business is 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss for each charge, for conspiracy to commit wire fraud is 30 years in prison and a fine of $1 million or twice the gross gain or loss, and for money laundering conspiracy is 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 or twice the amount laundered.

5:30 p.m. PDT: According to a tweet from Alexandra Berzon, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal: “Fertitta spokeswoman said the partnership with Full Tilt – announced late March – had ‘expired.’”

Also Associated Press reporter Oskar Garcia tweeted: “Wynn pulls out of alliance with PokerStars, while Fertitta’s says theirs was contingent on Full Tilt getting a gambling license.”

6:52 p.m. PDT:: Full Tilt Poker has shut down real money gaming in the U.S. stating, “Unfortunately, as a result of this action, Full Tilt Poker has decided that it must suspend “real money” play in the United States until this case is resolved. However, Full Tilt Poker will continue to provide peer-to-peer online poker services outside of the United States.”

The release from Full Tilt also said “Mr. Bitar and Full Tilt Poker believe online poker is legal – a position also taken by some of the best legal minds in the United States. Full Tilt Poker is, and has always been committed to preserving the integrity of the game and abiding by the law.”

Ray Bitar, who was listed on the indictment added “I am surprised and disappointed by the government’s decision to bring these charges. I look forward to Mr. Burtnick’s and my exoneration.”

What does this mean for Aussie online poker players? Read here

This article is courtesy of PokerNews.com

 

3 Responses to “FBI and Department of Justice shut down online poker”

  1. Neil Says:

    There are a lot of people complaining about the government doing this but the cold hard reality is it had to be done

    Why u may ask well in my opinion they have been running internet anarchy for too long, For starters the software that drives these sites is not monitored at all, meaning it has opportunity to be rigged favoring players, bad beats, etc. there has been sites charged over company workers playing poker against people whilst being able to see all cards on table, I personally myself sent an email to fulltilt two days before this happened asking them who monitored there software for fairness and they replied with “Rest assured that the Full Tilt Poker software is not rigged, fixed, or biased toward or against any player”

    Rest assured? Well we need better than that, we need legit companies that oversee the software and fairness of game play

    Clearly people who avoid taxes, bribe banks set up fake company’s and such dealings like that are not going to be honest in game play, let’s face it we have all been had and it’s about time they had to answer for their actions like any criminals would

  2. Steven Says:

    It was a black friday for online poker, but not all hope is lost. It seems the sites are up again at http://www.fulltilpoker.co.uk and http://www.pokerstars.eu but real money games and deposits are blocked for US players.

  3. Clint Rickerd Says:

    I have hated our government since Vietnam when I found out that we were ordered by then President Johnson to assassinate the President of South Vietnam, not for anything bad that he did but because he was prepared to end the war by throwing our asses out of Vietnam. We were led to believe he was a traitor so therefore we eliminated him. It was after it was done that I found out Johnson wanted the police action to keep going. End result, 35,000 more american lives lost. Now they are shutting down our freedom of choice to play poker online. Since when did they take possession of the internet? In poker you have a buy in fee, just like professional Golf, and you play against other players for the prize fund. I am an honorably discharged Disabled Vietnbam Veteran and I can honestly say If I didn’t have 18 chihuahua’s to take care of I would renounce my citizenship and move out of this not so free america. Our elected officials should rot in hell. Sorry about this novel but I’m tired of keeping my mouth shut. Poker players have to come together and blow these elected officials out of the water. Donh”t you agree? Thanks for giving me my long say.

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