U.S. charges 3 Canadians affiliated with PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker with money laundering in US$3 billion indictment

By Christine Duhaime | April 15th, 2011

The U.S. Attorney and the FBI today unsealed an indictment today charging 3 Canadians with money laundering, bank fraud and illegal gambling in connection with the operation of Internet gambling websites that provide online gambling services to U.S. residents. Eight other individuals, mostly residents of the U.S., were also indicted. The defendants include the founders of three of the largest Internet gambling sites – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker.

The 3 Canadians indicted are:

  • Isai Scheinberg, currently living in the Isle of Man;
  • Nelson Burtnick, currently living in Ireland; and
  • Ryan Lang, currently living in Canada.

The U.S. has sought the assistance of foreign law enforcement agencies for the arrests of Lang, Burtnick and Scheinberg.

The indictment alleges that the defendants fraudulently circumvented anti-money laundering laws and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) by disguising payments from U.S. gamblers as payments to fictitious online merchants selling other goods and services, lied to banks about the nature of their businesses and set up fictitious corporations, in order to open bank accounts to accept bets from U.S. players. Scheinberg, one of the founders of PokerStars, is alleged to have acquired a 30% interest in a small bank in Utah called SunFirst Bank in exchange for the Bank agreeing to process payments for PokerStars.

The U.S. also filed a civil complaint against the individual defendants and the poker companies to recover US$3 billion in civil penalties for money laundering. Asset restraining orders were issued against more than 76 bank accounts in 14 countries, including Canada, to freeze the accounts on the basis that the funds are proceeds of crime.

Five Internet domain names used by the poker companies to host the online gambling sites were also seized.

The indictment by the U.S. Attorney General on anti-money laundering law violations is a clever legal manoeuvre that will allow them to prosecute the defendants, secure the extradition of foreign defendants and retain frozen assets with much greater success than if the indictment was based solely on violations of the UIGEA. Most foreign Internet gambling site operators have little to no understanding of international anti-money laundering laws.

The defendants face up to 20 years in prison on the money laundering charges alone.

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