Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Full Tilters Talking

Andy Bloch and Howard LedererLate last week Diamond Flush published a very lengthy interview with Andy Bloch, one of those Team Full Tilters who had been closer than most to the many failures that led to Full Tilt Poker’s fall.

Bloch had been a significant shareholder in FTP’s parent company, Tiltware. He was also present and involved in discussions regarding a potential change in the management of the company post-Black Friday. Thus is Bloch one of several individuals definitely worth interviewing with regard to the FTP fiasco, someone who theoretically should know more than most about how the site came to mismanage funds so egregiously so as to be unable to allow players to cash out their balances once the site ceased U.S. operations (in April 2011) and eventually lost its licenses to operate elsewhere (in late June 2011).

Even though the interview is more than 7,000 words long, it has a fairly narrow scope, drilling deeper and deeper into what are really just a couple of issues -- (1) the logistics of decision-making and management at Full Tilt during the months before and after Black Friday; and (2) Bloch’s personal knowledge and/or understanding of what was happening.

Regarding the former, Bloch doesn’t offer too much that is new regarding how things were run prior to Black Friday, his comments essentially confirming what we’ve read elsewhere suggesting that CEO Ray Bitar was largely responsible for major decisions. We learn a bit more, however, about what happened from the summer of 2011 onward, when an attempt was made to unseat Bitar and/or bring in a new Board of Directors (on which Bloch would potentially serve). Neither change happened.

Bloch also tells of his own discovery in April 2011 of just how cash-poor FTP really was. It sounds like he had been vaguely aware of those governmental seizures of funds although hadn’t really focused on the situation until after the shinola had already hit the fan. Indeed, in the interview Diamond Flush seems a little surprised that Bloch is expressing a lack of awareness regarding certain seizures and amounts that had been reported by mainstream outlets.

That section of the interview almost led me to affix some cheeky title to this post, something about “Bloch-ing It Out” or the like, although I resisted. Bloch’s lack of awareness about what was going on didn’t seem as though it deserved highlighting in that way. (Of course, Bloch wasn’t the only one in a position of potential influence at FTP who apparently chose not to look more closely at what was happening.)

There’s some interesting almost-dirt being tossed around in there, with Bloch expressing suspicion and/or uncertainty about fellow Team Full Tilt members’ motives during those contentious what-the-hell-are-we-gonna-do-now meetings in Dublin last summer. Bloch looks askance at both of “the Phils” -- Gordon and Ivey -- sounding as though he believes both were more interested in preserving themselves than the company, especially Ivey with his lawsuit that Bloch judged “ma[de] no sense” and “had no valid legal basis.”

Andy BlochBitar predictably receives criticism from Bloch. The CFO (Gil Coronado, whom Bloch doesn’t name) is also censured here by Bloch, although only in passing. However, when it comes to the other three “FTP Insiders” named in the DOJ civil complaint -- Howard Lederer, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, and Rafe Furst -- Bloch says relatively little.

He doesn’t mention Furst at all. Ferguson comes up but once, during a discussion of a possible post-Black Friday “cash call” which would involve the inner circle putting up their own cabbage to try to save the company.

“A lot of people had their money tied up in real estate for example and had lost a lot in real estate as well,” explains Bloch. (We learned something of this kind of spending-slash-investing in the second amendment to the civil complaint that appeared last week just after Bloch’s interview.) “Unfortunately, not everyone is like Chris Ferguson who doesn’t spend a lot of money.”

In other words, unlike most (says Bloch), “Jesus” saves. Ultimately, though, the idea of the “FTP Insiders” supplying the needed money to cover cashouts wasn’t feasible. So the only reference to Ferguson here is positive. So, too, are the few references by Bloch to Howard Lederer.

Bloch notes how Lederer contacted him shortly after Black Friday, instructing Bloch to remain available for votes (as a shareholder). There’s reference to Lederer actually going ahead and pledging money amid that “cash call” discussion, the only person Bloch is aware of having done so. Finally, there’s one last reference to Lederer by Bloch when he’s asked about whether or not he would have done things differently.

“I would have been more involved,” Bloch begins, “and made sure there is somebody that was making sure that Ray was doing his job and not making ridiculous risky decisions that put everything in jeopardy. I think Howard would probably say the same thing.”

Speaking of Lederer, he, too, has finally spoken -- and again, at great length -- having agreed to an interview with PokerNews’ Matthew Parvis that apparently lasted seven hours or thereabouts. In a teaser, Parvis reported yesterday that the interview will be posted on the PN site in multiple installments starting today under the austere heading “The Lederer Files.” Sounds like there will be a follow-up of some kind as well over on Two Plus Two where Lederer will be answering further questions.

Like Bloch, Lederer will no doubt characterize his own involvement similarly, noting how the situation at FTP largely unraveled between 2008 (when he stepped away from the day-to-day operations) and early 2011. Will be curious to see, though, if the interview goes beyond Lederer just attempting to absolve himself over and again.

Diamond Flush introduced the Bloch interview as the first of several with FTPers, so it sounds like now that the PokerStars-DOJ-FTP agreement has been finalized, that trickle of anonymous postings by FTP employees that began almost a year ago is about to become a tidal wave of talk.

Meanwhile the rest of us will have to get out our detectors and start mining. Here’s hoping something of use washes ashore.

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