A top casino security officer testified Tuesday how his internal investigation led to an FBI raid on an alleged World Cup betting scheme operating out of luxury Caesars Palace villas.
Paul Urban, director of special investigations for Caesars Entertainment, said he launched his investigation after receiving a photo of one of the villas loaded with computers, wide-screen televisions and WiFi equipment commonly found in illegal sports betting wire rooms.
After determining illegal betting was taking place, Urban testified, he turned over what he had learned about the international group to state gaming agents, who then brought in the FBI.
Creighton Felt, who oversees the Gaming Control Board’s special investigations and intelligence unit, testified that he also believed illegal betting was taking place on World Cup soccer games at the villas.
On July 9, FBI and gaming agents executed search warrants at three villas seizing evidence of illegal gambling and later charged eight people in the multimillion-dollar betting scheme.
Last week, five defendants pleaded guilty in the scheme and were fined and sentenced to five years of probation with the condition they stay out of the United States during that period. The case against another defendant was dismissed.
But remaining two defendants, wealthy Malaysian businessman Paul Phua and his son, Darren Phua, are fighting the federal gambling charges.
Their defense lawyers, David Chesnoff and Thomas Goldstein, are challenging the constitutionality of the Caesars raid and trying to persuade U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen to recommend tossing out the evidence agents seized.
The lawyers contend agents conducted a warrantless search days before the raid that violated their clients’ due process rights. The agents cut off Internet service inside the villas and then entered them posing as computer technicians to gather evidence before they obtained search warrants.
On Monday, Chesnoff and Goldstein questioned an FBI agent about whether he misled another magistrate judge into approving the warrants.
The agent, Minh Pham, acknowledged that he didn’t tell U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Koppe that undercover agents had secretly entered the villas under the ruse.
Pham testified that he believed he didn’t need to inform Koppe in his sworn affidavit because agents had gotten permission from Caesars Palace to disconnect the Internet service.
Urban, however, testified Tuesday that he was uncomfortable with the ruse but didn’t interfere in it. He said he had “privacy concerns” about the undercover operation.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.