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The highly reported sportsbetting case centered on Asian gambling whale and alleged organized-crime member Wei Seng “Paul” Phua has taken an unexpected turn in favor of the defense, after a lengthy court filing by attorneys for Phua and three other defendants introduced strong evidence that FBI investigators had used illegal methods to gather evidence in the case.
The revelations came amid a 45-page “motion to suppress” of evidence in the case filed Tuesday by the high-powered defense attorneys in the case, which include Vegas-based super-attorney David Chesnoff. Chesnoff has made a career out of defending famous and high-profile defendants in civil and criminal matters, particularly amid the Vegas gambling scene.
The latest motion involving Phua and three of the seven other defendants in the case was filed on Tuesday. The case was born out of a July raid on three private guest villas at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, which were occupied by the defendants and other guests during the latter stages of the World Cup. Authorities eventually obtained a warrant to raid the villas and arrested the eight defendants soon after, including Paul Phua, his son Darren (Wei Kit) Phua, Seng Chen “Richard” Yong, and Yong’s son, Wei Kin.
Prosecutors’ filings in the case, including the indictment and supporting documents, provided plenty of grist for news reports. Among the juiciest allegations were that Paul Phua, a Malaysian native, was a prominent member of the 14K Triads, a Far East organized-crime ring specializing in illegal gambling and money laundering.
Phua himself was alleged to have co-owned an Asian-facing ring that may have taken in as much as $300 million in bets during this past summer’s FIFA World Cup, which led to another important part of the story: FBI agents and DOJ (AUSA) prosecutors alleged that Phua, Yong and the others moved the operation to the Caesars villas on the fly after the original home of the “boiler room” gambling operation, in Macau, was busted by authorities there.
Paul Phua himself was indeed one of the 22 people arrested in connection with the alleged Macau sportsbetting operation, but he was released and immediately left the territory less than three days later. The latest defense filing states that Phua was “released,” though a Malaysian Times report on the case earlier this year states that Phua was deported from Macau.
Whether or not Phua was involved in any sportsbetting operation within the US, however, is an issue that now even make it to court, based on the extensive evidence in the latest allegations and motion to suppress. The defense attorneys have provided convincing documentation that the FBI agents initially conducted warrantless searches within the three targeted villas containing the suspects, and did not receive proper consent to enter. The FBI agents even turned off internet access to the villas as part of a complicated ruse to gain access and secretly film activity inside the guest houses, even as they posed as casino technicians and pretended to fix the connections — which were actually controlled from outside at the flip of a single switch.
The defense attorneys provided even more evidence or unethical, perhaps even criminal, behavior by the three FBI agents and a state investigator, independent contractor and Caesars employee who worked with them. That behavior included destroying evidence after the fact, lying to a judge about a key sequence of events when finally seeking a warrant, and even failing to accurate document some of the secret searches and discussions being held as they employed the extra-legal methods to build their case.
Phua, Yong, their sons and the other defendants remain in various forms of custody in Las Vegas as the case marches on. The Phuas, father and son, and Richard Yong were prominent members of the celebrated “Macau” nose-bleed poker games which drew deep-bankrolled players from all over the world to participate. Several of those players have continued their backing of the Phuas and Yongs in the case by putting up bail money or offering their homes so that the defendants need not sit in a jail cell awaiting trial, and could instead be placed on electronic monitoring via ankle bracelet in a form of remote house arrest. Famed Vegas poker pros assisting the defendants in various ways include Phil Ivey, Andrew Robl and Tom “durrrr” Dwan, each of whom was also a regular player in the same Macau games.
The presiding judge in the case has yet to rule on the latest defense motion but the mere release of the evidence showing the investigators’ misdeeds quickly shot the story to the top of global news reports. If the defense’s allegations are true, the methods employed by the FBI investigators are so excessive and so beyond the civil rights of accused parties within the US that a dismissal of charges seems a very likely outcome.