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Atiyehs' Trial Opening Delayed until March

29 January 2001

The trial of offshore sports book operator Dennis Atiyeh, and his brother, Joseph, has been postponed at the request of the federal prosecutor. Originally scheduled to begin today, the trial is now set for March 5.

The Atiyehs were the subjects of a sealed indictment filed Nov. 9 by the U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia. It was unsealed Nov. 22. Dennis is accused of operating an illegal gambling business. He and Joseph are accused of money laundering and conspiracy to launder money.

Dennis, 37, who lives in Whitehall, Pennsylvania, runs English Sports Bettting (ESB) in Jamaica and publishes the Las Vegas Sporting News. He is free on $150,000 bail. Joseph, 43, lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and is or was president of a company there called Worldwide Financial Processors. He is free on $50,000 bail.

Both men have pleaded not guilty. Their lawyer, Ken Hense, told RGT Online last week that he didn't want to comment on the case until it's over.

The indictment alleges that Dennis Atiyeh, between Nov. 10, 1995, and May, 1996, used an office in Whitehall -- leased to a company called Sports Marketing and Sales -- to conduct business for ESB. The Las Vegas Sporting News, which has nothing to do with Las Vegas, was used to promote ESB, the indictment says.

During that time, the indictment says, customers would call the office in Whitehall to get information about ESB, open accounts, and "learn how to forward money to gamble with ESB." Funds for gambling were received, according to the indictment, by another business -- Sports Connnection, a sports apparel company located in Emmaus, Pennsylvania -- and by Worldwide Financial in Baton Rouge.

The government says that parlay cards were prepared at the Whitehall office. ESB customers could get them by using a "fax on demand" service at the office. During the time period in question, Sports Connnection allegedly received $891,000 in betting funds, which was transferred to ESB and Dennis Atiyeh.

Worldwide Financial allegedly received $4.5 million, which it transferred to ESB in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The indictment says the funds that ESB received were used to finance the Las Vegas Sporting News and Sports Marketing and Sales (the name of the Whitehall company) as well as ESB itself.

Other transfers of funds to ESB's account at CIBC Bank in Montego Bay are detailed in the court papers. The indictment charges that Dennis Atiyeh made payouts to winning bettors through the Sports Marketing and Sales office in Whitehall.

Life in Prison and Hefty Fines Possible

If Dennis is convicted, he could receive life in prison plus a fine of $7.75 million. Joseph could get life in prison and a fine of $2.5 million. In addition, the government says the defendants must forfeit $4.5 million.

The judge is John R. Padova. The prosecutor is Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne W. Chain. In a statement, her office said this case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and the Pennsylvania State Police.

Earlier this month, the Atiyehs filed a motion to suppress evidence that was allegedly obtained improperly during an allegedly consensual search of a storage locker on May 3, 1996. Padova denied the motion on Jan. 22.

The trial date was pushed back after Chain filed a motion to designate this as a "complex case." Such designation gives her more time to prepare the government's case.

Last month, Padova permitted Dennis Atiyeh to travel to Jamaica for a business meeting with that country's Minister of Telecommunications and Technologies to discuss pending contracts.

In a November story about the indictment in The Morning Call, a local newspaper, Dennis Atiyeh criticized the federal authorities for unsealing the indictment the day before the first anniversary of his mother's death.

"They knew it, too," Atiyeh told the newspaper. "This is the kind of people you are dealing with. They have no heart."

Chain told RGT Online that she was not aware of the anniversary.

English Sports Betting is still in business. The company sends out a brochure and a video tape featuring former NFL quarterback Jim McMahon as its spokesman. McMahon, always shown wearing sunglasses, says in the literature: "I've won a lot of championships. I've played for many teams. I only recommend one sportsbook . . . ESB." His picture also appears on the home page of ESB's Web site.

Chain declined to say why the indictment only covers the period from November 1995 to May 1996, although ESB was in business before then and continues to this day. It began in 1991.

"Careless in the Early Years"

But a source familiar with the offshore sports betting industry says Dennis Atiyeh did not take the precautions that other operators did.

"He was very careless in the early years," the source told RGT Online. "He faxed parlay cards from Pennsylvania. Other operators were careful to only send faxes from their offices in the Caribbean." These days, parlay cards don't need to be faxed; they're handled online. At ESB's Web site today, the cards are available in either Acrobat Reader or Word Document format.

The Atiyeh trial may be starting just as oral arguments get under way in the appeal of a far more famous offshort sports betting defendant, Jay Cohen. Cohen, co-founder of World Sports Exchange in Antigua, was convicted in federal court in New York last February.

In contrast to its treatment of the Cohen case, the Web site of the Las Vegas Sporting News has been silent about the indictment of the Atiyehs. The publication has repeatedly advised readers to avoid World Sports Exchange and any other offshore book owned by Americans, under the theory that sooner or later U.S. authorities will prosecute, the book will be forced to close and bettors will lose their funds.

In September, for example, despite the fact that – months after Cohen's conviction -- World Sports Exchange was still in business, a column in the Las Vegas Sporting News said, "Any bettors having funds in a WSEX [World Sports Exchange] betting account are strongly urged to remove their funds immediately, as you are doing business with an entity that is now clearly illegal. Because of the Cohen court decision, there is no longer any question that Internet gambling is illegal when run by Americans. . . .

"If you absolutely must wager on the Internet, LVSN advises you only use operations that are not run by Americans, such as those based in Australia and the United Kingdom."

Las Vegas Sporting News has run no such warnings about ESB.

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