Man pleads guilty in connection with Internet poker crackdown

One of the 11 individuals indicted on April 15 during the federal government’s crackdown on Internet poker pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New York to charges of bank fraud, wire fraud and engaging in unlawful Internet gambling.

Brent Beckley, who served as the director of payment processing for now-defunct Absolute Poker, faces up to 35 years in federal prison when he is sentenced in April, according to a statement from Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Beckley is the second individual to plead guilty following the unsealing of the nine-count indictment that cut off access by U.S. Internet poker players to three of the world’s largest online gambling websites.

Beckley, 32, who was living in Costa Rica, surrendered to law enforcement authorities Monday. He was released on bail following his court appearance. He is the first person tied directly to one of the three online poker companies to plead guilty in the case that has rocked the Internet poker community.

Federal prosecutors said Absolute Poker, along with PokerStars and Full Tilt, continued to operate in the United States following the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which became law in 2006 and made it a crime to “knowingly accept” most forms of payment in connection with Internet gambling.

Federal prosecutors said Beckley disguised Absolute Poker transactions so that they would appear to be from other, nongambling online merchants, such as online flower shops or pet supply stores, that would be approved despite credit card company policy.

Beckley, according to prosecutors, relied on co-conspirators who allegedly created shell companies, complete with phony websites.

Bradley Franzen of Illinois, who prosecutors said was involved with helping with the transactions, pleaded guilty in May and is awaiting sentencing.

The indictments charged the operators of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker with money laundering, bank fraud and operating illegal gambling businesses. When the indictments were unsealed, the three websites were frozen by the U.S. Justice Department, and American gamblers lost access to money they had on account with the websites.

Within a week, PokerStars and Full Tilt struck deals with federal prosecutors to refund money owed to U.S. gamblers. But only PokerStars has repaid American customers, disbursing more than $125 million.

Full Tilt Poker’s gambling license was revoked by gaming regulators in Alderney in the British Channel Islands. The company has reportedly been acquired by a French businessman. Absolute Poker is no longer in business. Scott Tom of Costa Rica was the other Absolute Poker executive indicted by federal prosecutors.

Besides Beckley and Franzen, only three other individuals out of the 10 indicted on April 15 have appeared in the federal court to answer charges. A trial for the three — Chad Elie of Las Vegas, Ira Rubin and John Campos — is set for March.

In addition to the criminal changes, the U.S. government filed a civil lawsuit seeking $3 billion in money laundering penalties from the websites and their operators.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.
Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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