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Feds eye poker champ’s assets

How many homes does one professional poker player need?

If you’re Howard Lederer, the number is seven, including six in Las Vegas.

Why is this an issue?

Last week, federal prosecutors took steps to seize the real estate, including two custom-built, multimillion-dollar homes Lederer owns in the ultra-exclusive The Ridges area of Summerlin.

According to a 145-page complaint filed in federal court in New York City last week, U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors said Lederer and his wife, Susan, acquired the homes, vacant land and six luxury automobiles with some of the $44.3 million he received over a four-year period "that was directly tied to the criminal conduct" from the now-defunct Full Tilt Poker website.

Prosecutors said the payouts to Lederer, a Full Tilt owner, were just a portion of the $443.8 million he and others allegedly stole from the website’s customers.

Lederer has never been charged criminally. Nor has fellow poker player Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, who prosecutors said was allocated more than $85 million from Full Tilt, though he collected just $42 million.

Lederer and Ferguson, who won the 2000 World Series of Poker Main Event, helped found the website, which became one of the world’s top Internet gambling locations.

Former Full Tilt Chief Executive Officer Raymond Bitar, however, is facing life in prison after surrendering to authorities in July, some 15 months after he was indicted as part of the April 15, 2011, "Black Friday" federal crackdown on unlawful Internet poker operations.

In the civil case filed a year ago, Full Tilt was described by prosecutors as nothing more than a giant Ponzi scheme. The website’s owners and operators are accused of diverting funds from gamblers into their own pockets.

Last month, the criminal case against Full Tilt as a company was largely resolved thanks to Poker Stars.

That Internet gaming giant agreed to pay the U.S. government $731 million over the next three years to settle its own criminal complaint stemming from Black Friday. Poker Stars is also acquiring Full Tilt’s remaining assets. Out of the settlement, $150 million will be used to refund money owed to American-based Full Tilt customers.

The justice department also wants Lederer’s property and bank accounts to help settle the score. In the amended complaint, prosecutors added forfeiture charges, saying Lederer’s homes and automobiles were purchased with "illegal proceeds."

Two of the homes Lederer had built in The Ridges.

According to the Clark County Assessor’s Office, he paid $674,000 in 2005 for a 0.43 acre lot on Hawk Ridge Drive and $1.095 million in 2008 for a 1.24 acre lot on nearby Skybird Court.

Between 2007 and 2010, prosecutors said Lederer paid Las Vegas luxury homebuilder Merlin Contracting and Developing more than $10.5 million to construct a 8,892-square-foot home on the Hawk Ridge location and a 4,598- square-foot home, described by the justice department as a "guesthouse," on Skybird Court.

Last week, the Merlin Contracting website still contained a testimonial from Howard and Susan Lederer on the quality of "our dream home."

Three other Las Vegas homes listed in the complaint are owned by Lederer’s trust or by Susan Lederer, including a single-family home in south Summerlin west of Hualapai Way, a home in Queensridge, and a house near Buffalo Drive south of Sahara Avenue.

A 2,039-square-foot house in Southern Highlands that was listed in the complaint was sold for $1.52 million in March to a couple from Honolulu, according to Clark County records. Lederer originally paid $505,378 for the property.

Prosecutors also listed a home in the Northern California city of El Dorado, which Susan Lederer has a 25 percent ownership stake.

In addition to the homes, prosecutors claim Lederer used Full Tilt funds for retirement accounts and expenses, including the purchase of six high-end automobiles – a 2008 Maserati GranTurismo, a 2008 Audi Q7, a 2008 Audi A8L, a 2009 Audi A8, a 2012 Audi A8 L Quattro, and a 2010 "1965" Shelby Cobra.

The justice department also wants to seize Bitar’s two homes in Glendora, Calif., including the location where he is now on house arrest awaiting trial.

"There is probable cause to believe that the defendant properties constitute, or are traceable to, property used in illegal gambling businesses," prosecutors said.

Lederer, nicknamed "The Professor," has won more than $5.7 million in tournament poker in his career, including $1.6 million at the World Series of Poker, where he earned two individual event championship bracelets.

Since "Black Friday," however, Lederer had laid low. He hasn’t shown up at the World Series of Poker in two years.

He and Ferguson were key figures in Full Tilt’s launch. Ferguson, who has a doctorate in computer science, developed Full Tilt’s software. Both enticed professional poker players to become Full Tilt-sponsored players.

Lederer played a part in Full Tilt’s announced partnership in March 2011 with Fertitta Interactive – co-owned by Station Casinos’ founding family – to potentially operate an American-based Internet poker site. The "Black Friday" indictments ended the deal.

Don’t think for minute, however, that Lederer is just going to hand the government the keys to the houses and cars.

He reportedly broke his 20-month silence to give an interview to PokerNews.com, which could soon appear on the popular website.

Lederer may still have a few hands to play.

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. He can be reached at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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