Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Trivial Pursuit: Black Friday News

Trivial Pursuit: Black Friday NewsAfter several months of unsuccessfully trying to get their cases thrown out of court and other gestures suggesting a readiness to fight the charges against them, two more “Black Friday” defendants -- Chad Elie, a payment processor, and John Campos, the SunFirst Bank Vice Chairman -- have decided to avoid trial and enter plea agreements with federal prosecutors.

That means six of the 11 named in the original “Black Friday” indictment have now been dealt with, aside from the sentencing which for all is pending. All six have admitted guilt to certain charges while bargaining for lesser punishments and not having their cases addressed in court. We’re talking about Campos, the four payment processors (Elie, Bradley Franzen, Ryan Lang, Ira Rubin), and Brent Beckley who was an original co-owner of Absolute Poker and handled their payments, too.

Meanwhile the “upper tier” figures -- Isai Scheinberg (PokerStars founder), Paul Tate (Director of Payments for Stars), Ray Bitar (Full Tilt Poker CEO), Nelson Burtwick (Director of Payments for FTP), and Scott Tom (Absolute co-owner) -- have yet to answer the charges against them.

Looking back at what everyone has pleaded guilty to thus far...

Franzen started out pleading not guilty in the days following Black Friday, but then a month later admitted to three of the counts related to bank fraud and money laundering. Later in December, Beckley admitted to conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud.

In January of this year Rubin pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges having to do with bank and wire fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling. Then last month Lang pleaded guilty to violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 plus three other counts.

Now Elie has admitted to conspiring to commit bank fraud and operating an illegal business, and while we’ll get more details regarding Campos’ deal soon, he, too, is likely admitting to something similar.

The deals struck by Elie and Campos came just days after we’d heard that Daniel Tzvetkoff, the Aussie payment processor turned “supergrass,” was scheduled to appear as a prosecution witness in the pair’s trial. It was Tzvetkoff whose 2009 arrest for violating the UIGEA, bank fraud, and money laundering ultimately led to the feds gathering enough evidence to proceed with the Black Friday indictment and civil complaint. In other words, he’s made a deal, too.

Seemed pretty clear during that first week or two following Black Friday that the chance of seeing any trials was going to be slim. The avalanche of counts against defendants pretty much guaranteed deal-making would be happening for those who chose to answer the charges. And for those who have chosen not to it is no surprise to see them steering clear of the U.S. and other places with extradition agreements.

This week’s guilty pleas might well be the last we’ll hear about Black Friday for a while, aside from the occasional blip about the relative brevity of the prison terms I assume most if not all of these cats ultimately will be getting.

There will be a lot of hubbub marking the one-year anniversary in a couple of weeks. And I suppose as long as that new documentary, All In: The Poker Movie, remains part of the general dialogue about poker, the symbolic worth of Black Friday will remain foregrounded given how the film highlights the significance of that day’s events, almost personifying the date as a villain threatening not just poker, but so-called “American” values like freedom, liberty, and so on.

Funny to think how the actual indictment and civil complaint and the fates of those targeted largely functions as trivia to most of us. Sure, if someone charged with violating the UIGEA actually made it to court and somehow beat the rap via a some sort of successful challenge to the law, that would be meaningful. But it certainly doesn’t appear something like that is going to be happening anytime soon, if ever.

So we Yanks skim the stories about folks pleading guilty and move on. It’s all other people’s business. Pretty much like online poker itself, at least for the time being.

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