DOJ Calls Full Tilt “Ponzi Scheme,” Claims Owners Defrauded Players

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara filed a motion this morning to amend its civil complaint against Full Tilt Poker, claiming the owners defrauded players out of more than $300 million and calling Full Tilt a "global Ponzi scheme."

According to the Wall Street Journal, the amendment names Howard LedererChris "Jesus" FergusonRafe Furst and Ray Bitar as the principals in a scheme that paid out $444 million to themselves and the other owners of Full Tilt Poker at least partially through supposedly segregated player deposits.

Bharara: Full Tilt is Ponzi Scheme

"Full Tilt was not a legitimate poker company, but a global Ponzi scheme," said Bharara in the statement.

Bhahara also said Full Tilt "cheated and abused its own players to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars" and that "insiders lined their own pockets with funds picked from the pockets of their most loyal customers while blithely lying to both players and the public alike about the safety and security of the money deposited with the company."

Further to the complaint, the DOJ is also seeking new penalties for each defendant totaling $41 million for Bitar, $42 million for Lederer, $25 million for Ferguson and $12 million for Furst, related to the percentage of their ownership in the company when the fraud was committed.

It is also asking for forfeiture of all funds paid to each individual from Full Tilt Poker.

Rafael Furst

Rafe Furst: Added to the DOJ defendant list.

From the amended complaint filed by Bhahara:

"The Amended Complaint alleges that one of the Poker Companies, Full Tilt Poker, not only engaged in the operation of an unlawful gambling business, bank fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering as alleged in the Complaint, but also defrauded its poker players by misrepresenting to players that funds deposited into their online player accounts were secure and segregated from operating funds, while at the same time using player funds to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars to Full Tilt Poker owners.

"Full Tilt Poker was able to accomplish this massive fraud, in part, because it illegally conducted business in the United States but maintained its personnel, operations, assets, and accounts principally overseas.

"The Amended Complaint further alleges that, in or about the summer of 2010, Full Tilt Poker payment processing channels were so disrupted that the company faced increasing difficulty attempting to collect funds from players in the United States.

"Rather than disclose this fact, Full Tilt Poker simply credited players' online gambling accounts with money that had never actually been collected from the players' bank accounts. Full Tilt Poker allowed players to gamble with -- and lose to other players -- this phantom money that Full Tilt Poker never actually collected or possessed.

"When other players won these phantom funds, their accounts were credited with money that Full Tilt Poker did not actually possess, but now nevertheless owed to these players.

"As a result, Full Tilt Poker soon developed a massive shortfall between the money owed to United States players and the money actually collected from United States players, with Full Tilt Poker having credited approximately $130 million in phantom money to U.S. players online accounts that was never actually collected from players' bank accounts.

"Full Tilt Poker never disclosed this shortfall to the public.

"The Amended Complaint further alleges that, as of March 31, 2011, Full Tilt Poker owed approximately $390 million to players around the world, including approximately $150 million owed to players in the United States.

"At that time Full Tilt Poker had only approximately $60 million on deposit in its bank accounts. As of the filing of this Amended Complaint, Full Tilt Poker still owes players over $300 million.

"The Amended Complaint alleges that, meanwhile, from approximately April 2007 until April 2011, Full Tilt Poker, and its Board of Directors, Bitar, Howard Lederer (“Lederer”), Christopher Ferguson, a/k/a “Jesus” (“Ferguson”), and Rafael Furst (“Furst”), all owners of Full Tilt Poker, distributed approximately $443,860,529.89 to themselves and other owners of the company.

"Payments to the Full Tilt Poker owners stopped only after April 15, 2011."

No representatives for any of the parties could be reached for comment by the Wall Street Journal.

Full Tilt Poker is currently in the processs of completing its hearing with the Alderney Gambling Control Commission about the reinstatement of its operating license.

No statement has been released by either party regarding the proceeedings over the last two days in London.

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