Details of indictment against principals of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker

By Christine Duhaime | April 16th, 2011

The indictment in the U.S. against eleven people associated with PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, including Canadians Isai Scheinberg, Nelson Burtnick and Ryan Lang, has been made public.

The indictment alleges as follows:

  • The principals of PokerStars (Isai Scheinberg and Paul Tate), Absolute Poker (Scott Tom and Brent Beckley) and Full Tilt Poker (Raymond Bitar and Nelson Burtnick) deceived, or directed others to deceive, U.S. banks into processing billions of dollars in payments by disguising the funds as payments to fictitious merchants;
  • Scheinberg, Bitar, Beckley, Burtnick and Tate paid certain payment processors, including Canadian Ryan Lang, to lie to U.S. banks about the nature of their business and the transactions processed through the U.S. financial system and to disguise the payments as non-gambling related proceeds;
  • In order to continue to accept Visa and MasterCard payments from U.S. customers for online gambling, the defendants set up phony entities to be able to have credit card merchant numbers assigned to those entities that were not associated with online gambling to circumvent regulations implemented by Visa and MasterCard to deny all authorization requests from online gambling merchants. Because the risk control and anti-money laundering systems at the banks could frequently detect the activity associated with the phony merchants as illegal gambling activity, different phony entities were continually being created to obtain merchant codes to process payments;
  • The defendants developed stored value cards (also called prepaid access) such as prepaid debit and phone cards that could be loaded with funds from a U.S. customer’s Visa or MasterCard unassociated with a merchant code so that the cards could be used to transfer funds to the online poker sites and they also arranged for false e-check processing to facilitate gambling from U.S. customers; and
  • The defendants invested in small local banks in the U.S. that were facing financial difficulty so that they could control their decisions with respect to the processing of gambling proceeds. In exchange, the banks or their officers, were given certain kick-backs from the funds processed.

Under U.S. anti-money laundering legislation, a person who launders proceeds of crime or participates in a money laundering transaction greater than US$10,000, is liable on conviction to a sentence of up to 20 years and a fine of twice the value of the funds laundered.

The U.S. government estimates that billions of dollars were processed in the U.S. by PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker between November 2006 and March 2011. The defendants are charged with, among other crimes, laundering proceeds of crime and participating in financial transactions knowing that the transactions involved criminal proceeds.

A total of US$4.5 billion is being sought by civil forfeiture.

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