Full Tilt chief executive pleads not guilty to defrauding customers after airport arrest
THE CHIEF executive of Full Tilt Poker, the online gambling company branded a global Ponzi scheme by US prosecutors, has been arrested at JFK airport, New York, and charged with further offences, including defrauding customers.
Raymond Bitar, who surrendered himself to police on his arrival in the US from Ireland, appeared in court in New York on Monday and entered a not guilty plea to nine charges. He was told he could be released on a $2.5 million (€1.98 million) bond.
Last year, Mr Bitar was charged with illegal gambling, bank fraud and money-laundering, and a new indictment was unsealed after his arrest.
Full Tilt was based in Ireland and its Pocket Kings subsidiary employed more than 500 people in Dublin.
About 250 people were laid off in the wake of Full Tilt’s closure, and a number of rival online poker companies have been in talks to buy the Irish back office facility.
The US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York said Mr Bitar was being charged with defrauding poker customers by lying to them about the security of the funds in their accounts.
It said Mr Bitar promised their funds were protected in segregated accounts, whereas Full Tilt used them to pay the chief executive and the company’s owners more than $430 million.
The company owed US players $350 million, the indictment said.
“The indictment alleges how Bitar bluffed his player-customers and fixed the game against them as part of an international Ponzi scheme that left players empty-handed,” said US attorney Preet Bharara.
Also named in the new indictment is Nelson Burtnick, who ran Full Tilt’s payment processing department.
Mr Bitar faces a maximum jail term of 145 years if found guilty.
Last September the company had its gambling licence revoked by the Alderney Gambling Commission.
US prosecutors, who have pursued several online gambling companies since a crackdown was started by Congress in 2006, last year indicted the founders of Full Tilt, Poker Stars and Absolute Poker.
Full Tilt took $1 billion from US customers, the indictment said, using fraudulent means to avoid bank restrictions.
The US government also launched civil proceedings to recover $3 billion of profit from the three companies.
Mr Bitar and Mr Burtnick were named in last year’s indictment, along with nine others. Mr Burtnick remains at large, along with Isai Scheinberg and Paul Tate of Poker Stars, and Scott Tom of Absolute Poker. The remaining six have entered guilty pleas, with one now serving a three-month jail term.
According to the indictment, as well as misrepresenting how much money the company had, Mr Bitar led customers to believe they were gambling with real money whereas they were gambling with phantom online credits totalling $130 million. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012)