The entire gaming industry on both sides of Atlantic ocean got abuzz over the yesterday's news about the arrest of Full Tilt Poker chief Ray Bitar at Kennedy airport following his dramatic surrender immediately upon arrival to US on the charges of running a Ponzi scheme.
"I know that a lot of people are very angry at me. I understand why. Full Tilt should never have gotten into a position where it could not repay player funds," said 40-year-old Bitar in a statement issued by his legal representatives explaining also that he had voluntarily travelled from his HQ in Ireland to surrender to the US authorities.
As per the reports published by Associated Press, Bitar pleaded not guilty in a New York courtroom after his arrest. He was ordered held until provision of a $2.5 million bond, a bail amount set by U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman in spite the prosecutor's request to be held without bail in view of the flight risk.
According to Arlo Devlin-Brown, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Bitar untruly claimed to Internet poker customers that their money would be safe and would not be mixed with company funds. Namely, over $430 million had been paid to Bitar and other owners and only $60-$70 million remained in the company accounts to reimburse players who thought their accounts totaled $350 million, with half of the amount belonging to Americans, Assistant U.S. Attorney claims.
Bitar has been accused by Devlin-Brown of taking minimum $40 million and placing them on accounts abroad.
Devlin-Brown also stated that, even after Black Friday, Bitar did not stop accepting money from new customers outside US.
"By then this company was little more than a Ponzi scheme, and his presence was needed to keep it from unravelling," he said.
According to the Bitar's lawyers, he had "worked hard" during the past 15 months to find solutions for getting players repaid. "Returning today is part of that process. I believe we are near the end of a very long road, and I will continue to do whatever is required to get the players repaid, and I hope that it will happen soon," Bitar said in a statement.
Yet, Devlin-Brown dismissed all Bitar's claims that he attempted to help the customers, as it "strains all credibility" as Bitar was "simply keeping a Ponzi scheme from being detected."
Furtermore, the prosecutor said the U.S. had been in contact with Irish counterparts about Bitar's extradition in case he did not voluntarily return to the United States.
"… Bitar bluffed his player-customers and fixed the game against them as part of an international Ponzi scheme that left players empty-handed," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
The revised indictment, unsealed Monday in a federal court in New York, reveals that Bitar's sentence could be "measured in decades" following the claims that Bitar jointly with Nelson Burtnick, head of payment processing, used player funds to finance Full Tilt Poker's operations and pay its owners.
Prosecutors said Bitar and Burtnick failed to hold player cash in “segregated” accounts and that they then “concocted a method to temporarily disguise the company's problems,” Bloomberg news reports.
Immediate repayment of all money owed to U.S. players was agreed between Full Tilt Poker and the U.S. Justice Department, however neither the company nor the two defendants repaid customers, the prosecutors said, adding that: “In truth and in fact, however, Full Tilt Poker could not return player money because, as Bitar knew, the player money had been spent by the company and distributed to its owners.”
The head of the FBI's New York office, Janice Fedarcyk, said:
“Bitar and Full Tilt Poker persisted in soliciting U.S. gamblers long after such conduct was outlawed. Bitar has already been charged with defrauding banks to conceal the illegal gambling. Now he stands accused of defrauding Full Tilt's customers by concealing its cash-poor condition and paying off early creditors with deposits from later customers. The online casino became an Internet Ponzi scheme.”
Recent speculation that Bitar surrendered to complete overall acquisition process of Full Tilt by Pokerstars and that he sent an email to Irish employees hasn't been confirmed.
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