DOJ Claims Full Tilt Was Ponzi Scheme: Lederer, Ferguson, Bitar Face Charges

 

Manhattan’s U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, on Tuesday, called Full Tilt Poker “a massive keluar sgp scheme against its own players.” The Department of Justice is now amending the legal papers of Black Friday to include new charges specifically targeting Full Tilt Poker and its owners.

This amendment charges three new defendants with money laundering: Full Tilt Poker board members, Howard Lederer, Jesus Ferguson, Rafael Furst, along with the previously charged, CEO Ray Bitar. It’s unclear if jail time could be in their future, but if convicted of money laundering, these four owners of Full Tilt, and possibly others, will be forced to personally pay out penalties ranging from $12M to $42M.

 

In this new amendment, the Department of Justice claims “Full Tilt Poker used player funds, among other things, to maintain a steady flow of payment to its owners, totally more than $443 Million over the last four years, despite the fact that Full Tilt Poker did not have sufficient funds to repay its players.”

 

According to the DOJ, by March 31 Full Tilt Poker owed $390 million to poker players around the world, including $150 million to Full Tilt players in the United States, but only had $60 Million in their bank accounts. According to these charges, not only were player funds not safe, but over 85% of player funds were spent on operating expenses or paid out to the owners in the form of exorbitant monthly paychecks. If these allegations are true, then Full Tilt has nowhere near enough to pay out its players who deposited money online and have been unable to make withdrawals since April 2011.

 

US attorney Preet Bharara came down hard on Full Tilt Poker Tuesday. Bharara said, “Full Tilt insiders lined their own pockets with funds picked from the pockets of their most loyal customers while blithely lying to both players and the public alike about the safety and security of the money deposited.”

 

The Department of Justice also claims that Full Tilt repeatedly misrepresented themselves to customers, and that their claims of keeping money safe were blatant lies. As as an example, Full Tilt Poker customer support created a form email in 2008 falsely reassuring customers about the security of their funds. It read, “Our players’ funds are kept in several accounts throughout the world, all of which are separate and distinct from our operating accounts.”

 

These new charges claim that Full Tilt Poker also used their online rep FTPDoug to consistently deceive online poker players about the safety of their funds. Over the last three years, FTPDoug repeatedly reassured players posting in online poker forums that Full Tilt Poker kept player’s funds and operational funds completely separate. According to the DOJ, this is all lies.

 

The feds have come hard, naming names and giving dollar figures. Bitar, they say, got paid $41 Million into his NatWest account. Lederer received $42 Million in his Wells Fargo account. Records show that Chris Ferguson was due $85 Million, with $25 million already paid out to his CitiBank acccount, and a large sum owed to him. The other unnamed 19 owners received the remainder of the $443,860,530.

 

According to the DOJ, in June, Lederer communicated to other Full Tilt owners that Full Tilt Poker had only $6 Million left. On June 29th all play was halted at Full Tilt Poker upon the loss of their Alderney gaming license. Based on these latest claims, that may be the last time anyone plays a hand at Full Tilt Poker, time will tell. Full Tilt Poker was one of the most beloved poker sites ever, home to high stakes action of all kind, including the largest online pot ever, a $1.35 Million pot won by Patrik Antonius over Swede Viktor Blom. Now with the latest allegations against Full Tilt Poker, player fondness for the poker room is slowly turning sour.

 

No comment has been heard from Ferguson, Lederer, Bitar, or Furst, and their whereabouts are unknown.

 

For poker players around the world, the reaction to the Department of Justice’s latest action against Full Tilt poker is mixed. The positive here is that the United States government seems to be making the distinction between online poker, and the illegal activities of site owners like Full Tilt Poker.

 

The bad news is the seemingly very strong evidence presented by the DOJ that Full Tilt poker was operating as a massive ponzi scheme rather than a legitimate online gaming company. As one of the largest online poker sites to ever exist, with hundreds of millions of dollars deposited by loyal customers, we hope to see Full Tilt player funds recovered, whether from the sale of Full Tilt poker software and intellectual property, or from the owners themselves.

 

Hopefully the United States government will see the growing international popularity of online poker, and use Full Tilt’s misdeeds as the perfect time to bring in regulated online poker in the United States for the good of all..