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Gaming Guru

Jeff German
 

Key figure in illegal World Cup bets sentenced to probation

9 March 2015

LAS VEGAS -- The son of wealthy Malaysian businessman Paul Phua pleaded guilty Friday in a betting scheme prosecutors say involved millions of dollars in illegal wagers on the 2014 World Cup.

Darren Phua — who had been fighting for months with his father to get illegal gambling charges dismissed — pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor accessory after the fact to the crime of transmission of wagering information.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon immediately sentenced Phua, 23, to five years of unsupervised probation on condition he stay out of the United States during that period.

He also fined Phua $100,000 and ordered him to forfeit $125,000 and the electronic devices belonging to him that FBI agents seized in a July 9 raid on the international betting operation at luxury Caesars Palace villas.

On Thursday, defense lawyer Richard Schonfeld told Gordon that Phua wanted to change his plea because he was homesick after spending nine months in Las Vegas and wanted to return to his friends and family in Malaysia.

“He has described the last nine months of his life as a nightmare that he has been unable to wake up from,” Schonfeld told Gordon on Friday.

Phua did not address the judge. He is making arrangements to leave the country as soon as he can.

Gordon told Phua that the crime he committed was serious and that he “forfeited” his right to stay in the United States.

Paul Phua, a widely known poker player who also was indicted in the case, is still fighting the illegal gambling charges. The FBI alleges he is tied to the powerful Chinese crime syndicate known as the 14K Triad, but his lawyers have strongly denied the claim. His trial is set for April 13 before Gordon.

Six other defendants from Malaysia and China were indicted with the Phuas in July. Five of the defendants pleaded guilty in December and each was also fined and sentenced to five years of probation with the same condition to stay out of the country during that period. The case against a sixth defendant was dismissed.

The betting case has attracted national and inter­national attention because of the prominence of the Phuas in the worldwide poker community — professional player Phil Ivey helped put up their bail — and an unusual ruse FBI and Nevada gaming agents used to access the villas to gather evidence before the July raid. Agents cut Internet service to a villa on July 5, gaining entry by posing as technicians working to fix the problem.

Last month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen found that despite the deception, the Phuas effectively consented to that visit by allowing the agents inside.

But Leen also found that “false and misleading statements” were made by FBI agents in a sworn affidavit seeking permission to search the Caesars villas. She concluded the search warrant affidavit was “fatally flawed” and lacked probable cause to support the search. She recommended tossing out the evidence.

Prosecutors previously said they would have a tough time proving the case without computers, iPads, dozens of cellphones and other electronic equipment seized from the three villas.

Both prosecutors and defense lawyers have asked Gordon to review Leen’s findings.