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Major Online Poker Sites Charged with Fraud, Money Laundering

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney has charged the principals of three of online poker's biggest sites with bank fraud, illegal gambling and laundering billions of dollars.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's office in New York, a multi-billion dollar civil money laundering and forfeiture action has also been filed and the Internet domain names used by PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker have been seized.

In all, 11 defendants have been charged, including PokerStars' Isai Scheinberg, Fill Tilt Poker's Ray Bitar and Absolute Poker's Scott Tom.

"As charged, these defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits," said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker "Lied to Banks"

"Moreover, as we allege, in their zeal to circumvent the gambling laws, the defendants also engaged in massive money laundering and bank fraud.

"Foreign firms that choose to operate in the United States are not free to flout the laws they don’t like simply because they can’t bear to be parted from their profits."

Janice Fedarcyk, The FBI's Assistant Director-in-Charge, said the online poker sites lied, flauted the law and wagered they could circumvent U.S. law without repercussions.

"These defendants, knowing full well that their business with U.S. customers and U.S. banks was illegal, tried to stack the deck," she said.

"They lied to banks about the true nature of their business. Then, some of the defendants found banks willing to flout the law for a fee. The defendants bet the house that they could continue their scheme, and they lost."

The indictment alleges the online poker companies continued to operate in the United States despite passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006, used fraudulent methods to circumvent federal law and trick banking institutions into processing payments on their behalf, and enlisted "payment processors" to lie to banks about the nature of the financial transactions they were processing and disguise payments back to the them.

It goes on to allege PokerStars and Full Tilt approached the principals of a few small, local banks facing financial difficulties to engage in payment processing on their behalf in return for multi-million dollar investments in the banks.

The indictment and civil complaint seek at least $3 billion. Some of the charges carry maximum penalties of up to 30 years in prison.

With many of the defendants named not living in the United States currently, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is working with foreign law enforcement agencies and Interpol to secure their arrest and seize their criminal proceeds located abroad.

For ongoing updates over the weekend, visit our Black Friday Bulletin Board.

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