Phil Ivey and another big-name professional poker player posted $2.5 million in cash last week to bail out key defendants charged in an international illegal sports betting operation that FBI agents busted at Caesars Palace.
But the two defendants, wealthy businessman Wei Seng “Paul” Phua and son Darren Phua, both Malaysian citizens, still were behind bars Sunday because federal immigration authorities detained them for possible deportation.
Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the lead investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, took custody of the Phuas after their bail was posted. Both men were listed in ICE custody Sunday at the Henderson Detention Center, records show.
Las Vegas lawyer David Chesnoff, who represents the Phuas with his partner Richard Schonfeld, said the defense team planned to challenge the ICE detention.
“Our clients have complied with every condition set by a federal judge for their release,” Chesnoff said. “We have repeatedly attempted to contact ICE authorities, who have not responded. We are going to take further legal steps.”
Chesnoff said he was “outraged” that the executive branch of government won’t honor a judicial branch order.
Ivey, a 10-time World Series of Poker champion who lives in Las Vegas, put up $1 million — $500,000 toward Paul Phua’s $2 million bail and the entire $500,000 bond for his son, according to court papers filed last week by Chesnoff and Schonfeld.
Andrew Robl, another icon on the professional poker circuit, posted the other $1.5 million of the elder Phua’s bail, the court papers show.
In an earlier sworn affidavit, Robl, who also lives in Las Vegas, said he has been a friend of Paul Phua for four years and planned to cash $1.5 million in poker chips he won at the Aria resort to help cover his bail.
Ivey and Robl aren’t the only poker stalwarts to rally behind the Phuas in the criminal case.
Another big-name poker player, Tom Dwan, was with Paul Phua and his son when FBI agents arrested them earlier this month and signed a sworn affidavit questioning the tactics of the agents.
Dwan also was present in federal court when the Phuas made initial appearances on illegal gambling charges with six other defendants. He had private discussions with defense lawyers throughout the court appearances.
Chesnoff, who also represents Ivey, called him the “top poker player in the world.” Ivey won his 10th World Series of Poker gold bracelet last month at the Rio Convention Center, tying him for second on the all-time winner’s list.
Ivey, who went through a bitter public divorce, is not a stranger to controversy. His latest bout with the courts occurred in April, when the Borgata in Atlantic City filed a federal lawsuit alleging he won $9.6 million in high-stakes baccarat in 2012 through cheating. Ivey strongly denied the claim and sought to dismiss the suit.
Phua, 50, a frequent player at poker tables in Las Vegas and Macau, and the other defendants were taken into custody by FBI agents on the Strip July 13 following a raid days earlier on the multimillion-dollar sports betting operation that took wagers on the World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil. The raid occurred at three exclusive Caesars Palace villas after the Strip resort tipped off authorities to the operation. Caesars Palace was not a target of the investigation.
In a criminal complaint, the FBI alleged that the elder Phua was “known by law enforcement to be a high-ranking member of the 14K Triad,” one of the largest criminal syndicates in the world.
Hong Kong-based 14K Triad specializes in drug trafficking and traditional forms of criminal activity, including illegal gambling, prostitution and loan sharking.
Phua and more than 20 other people were arrested June 18 in Macau for running a large gambling operation that took in hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal bets on the World Cup tournament, the Las Vegas FBI complaint alleged.
After his arrest in Macau, Phua was released on bail and flew to Las Vegas on his private jet, where he and his associates are alleged to have resumed their illegal gambling at Caesars Palace, according to the complaint.
At a July 14 hearing in Las Vegas , Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Frayn said Phua told court officials that he was worth $300 million to $400 million, but he is thought to be worth much more.
He told FBI agents during the Caesars Palace raid that he had wagered hundreds of millions of dollars on sporting events since he arrived in Las Vegas in late June. He also said he bought a widely known sports betting service in Asia for $200 million and paid $48 million for his Gulfstream jet.
Frayn sought to keep both Phuas, who are not U.S. citizens, behind bars, arguing they were threats to flee. Without citing names, Frayn said a number of Paul Phua’s poker associates may have been involved in illegal activity uncovered by the FBI investigation, which is continuing. There has been talk that more arrests are coming.
But Chesnoff and Schonfeld, who denied Phua was tied to organized crime, attacked the government’s case in court and persuaded a federal magistrate to release both defendants from custody with restrictions.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Bill Hoffman ordered Paul Phua to put up the $2 million bail along with his jet as collateral. Hoffman also ordered the jet to be used as collateral for the 22-year-old Darren Phua’s 500,000 bail.
Both defendants were ordered to stay on home detention with electronic monitoring in the third-party custody of a Las Vegas physician who befriended the elder Phua while playing poker.
But their release didn’t happen because ICE grabbed the defendants before they could be freed and placed them in its custody.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.