Paul Phua and his son Darren will plead not guilty to charges that they operated an illegal sports betting ring out of a Caesars Palace villa this summer, a decision that will send the case to trial.
The two Phuas are the only defendants planning to enter a not guilty plea, as five others have said they will plead guilty and one has had the charges against him dismissed.
The various pleas and the dismissal come after weeks of negotiations between prosecutors and defendants behind the scenes. The five defendants planning to enter guilty pleas this week to US District Judge Andrew Gordon include Richard Yong, Hui Tang, Yan Zhang, Yung Keung Fan and Herman Chun Sang Yeung.
It is expected that all five will also be sentenced this week.
If history repeats itself, the planned federal seizure of an estimated $13 million in cash, phones and computers from all seven defendants may mitigate that sentencing considerably. Prosecutors will be going after goods and currency that court records say includes as many as 17 iPads, 48 cell phones, and several computers.
That means that after you account for $650,000 in cash and casino chips, you have over $12,350,000 million in equipment, and based on those numbers, we’re guessing they must be plated in 24-karat gold.
Four of the five defendants have reached agreements under which they will only be pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges. The fifth, Tang, will plead guilty to a felony gambling charge instead. Meanwhile, Yong’s son, Wai Kin Yong, has had all charges against him dismissed.
Once the guilty pleas are settled this week, that will leave only the two Phuas to have their fates decided in court. According to lawyer David Chesnoff, who is representing the Phuas, the two men maintain their innocence.
“We are not guilty as we always maintained,” Chesnoff said. “It is our intention to fight the unconstitutional conduct of the federal government for our clients and for the rest of the public.”
That comment is likely related to the controversial tactics used by FBI agents in order to collect evidence against the eight defendants in July.
After officials at Caesars Palace became suspicious over the activities in the three villas being occupied by the group, FBI agents worked with casino officials to cut Internet access in the suites. Once the defendants called for tech support, FBI agents posed as technicians to gain access to the rooms and collect evidence that was used to obtain a warrant for the later raid.
Last week, Chesnoff and fellow defense attorney Thomas Goldstein also filed papers in court that the FBI used “flimsy” evidence in order to connect Paul Phua and Richard Yong to the 14K Triad, a major Hong Kong-based organized crime group, evidence that was used to convince a judge to authorize the raid.
That apparently included the fact that a Macau junket that was tied to a Hong Kong triad was used by the group to settle wagers with some wealthy bettors.
The Phuas are well-liked in the high-stakes poker community, as Paul Phua has played in both huge cash games in Macau and the Big One for One Drop charity tournament in Las Vegas. Those appearances helped Phua develop friendships with some of the biggest names in poker, friendships that came in handy after he and his son were arrested.
First, Phil Ivey and Andrew Robl combined to pot $2.5 million in bail money for the Phuas. Tom “durrrr” Dwan is also closely associated with the two defendants, having been with them at the time of their arrest and later being seen at the Phuas’ initial court appearances and talking with their lawyers.