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Exceptional circumstances in a major illegal sports betting case concerning as much US $300 million bet in allegedly illegal FIFA World Cup betting action have caused a United States prosecution against the case’s two remaining defendants to be pushed back to February.
Defendants Wei Seng (“Paul”) Phua and his son, Wei Kit (“Darren”) Phua remain free on bail pending further proceedings. Paul Phua and his son Darren are the last of eight defendants charged last July with operating a boiler-plate betting operation out of three luxury guest villas at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil generated huge gambling interest in Asia, with billions of euros wagered on the contests.
Five of the six other defendants in the case, including a couple of other Asian gambling “whales” famous on the international scene, accepted plea deals earlier this month. The deals included significant fines averaging more than a million dollars per defendant, plus probation and voluntary deportation. Charges against the remaining other defendant were dropped as part of that package deal.
For the Phuas, father and son, the choice has been to fight the charges and the circumstances under which search warrants were obtained and the searches themselves executed. Though part of the same Asian-gambling group which reserved the guest villas, and immediately following Paul Phua’s arrest in and escorting from Macau on similar sports-betting-business charges, the Phuas’ villa was not part of the boiler-room operation.
American FBI agents investigating the curious activity at the villas, at the request of Caesars officials, have been shown to have falsified many details of their initial surveillance in order to get a judge to grant the search warrant. That and the raid followed a complex ruse in which the agents intentionally shut off internet service to the villas. The agents posed as technicians, secretly filmed the premises, then turned the service back on.
Such invasions by investigators, even if an actual crime is occurring, often run afoul of US constitutional protections. That and the lies told by the investigators to the warrant-issuing judge helped propel the case into mainstream headlines, and contributed to the case’s recent continuation until February.
Presiding US District Peggy Leen (not the judge who issued the search warrant) was forced to conduct three full days of hearings connected to the evidence. The Phuas’ powerful defense counsel, including celebrity defense attorney David Z. Chesnoff, are attempting to have the evidence in the case declared inadmissible. Leen has yet to rule whether the FBI agents’ testimony and evidence will be allowed into the case.
If not, the case itself may well be dismissed. Though neither Paul Phua or his son Darren are likely to face jail time, tens of millions of dollars in fines and civil forfeitures are at stake.
The Phuas are reported to have rejected a plea deal which would have seen them fined US $13 million. That amount represents the profit US authorities and Nevada gaming regulators believe was generated through the roughly $300 million in betting action through the operation being conducted in the Caesars Palace villas. That betting occurred from late May to early July, when the raid occurred, and covered much of the World Cup schedule.
The Phuas were forced to have their bail posted by several famous American high-stakes poker pros, who often played against the Phuas in cash games in Macau casinos. Phil Ivey and Andrew Robl are among those putting up a million dollars or more in bail money, while Tom “durrrr” Dwan allowed Paul Phua to reside at his Vegas home while out on bail.
Acknowledging that she had to rule on the evidence admissibility, Judge Leen on Christmas Eve handed down an order agreeing to a secondary defense motion, to delay the trial another four weeks. That’s the continuation order from Wednesday, which moves the case’s scheduled beginning from January to February.
Unless delayed further, the case is now scheduled to begin on February 9th. Leen will almost certainly rule on the admissibility question in January; her decision will almost certainly produce more major-media headlines.
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