Paul Phua Sports Betting Bust FBI Tactics Could Be Inadmissable, Lawyers Say

October 29th, 2014 | by Brian Corlisse
Paul Phua sports betting ring FBI tactics

Paul Phua’s defense lawyers say that the FBI used illegal tactics to collect evidence against the high-stakes poker pro and his associates. (Image: calvinayre.com)

Lawyers for several defendants in the Paul Phua sports betting case say that FBI agents used illegal tactics to obtain evidence against their clients.

That accusation came from legal counsel representing four of the eight defendants in the case, who say that evidence obtained by FBI agents who pretended to be repair technicians should be dismissed from court documents.

The case began in July, when Phua and others allegedly set up an illegal sports betting ring in three villas at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

At the time, workers at the resort became suspicious when the eight defendants started to request “unusually large amounts” of equipment and technical support. One electrical engineer informed security that it appeared as though the villas were “set up for an illegal gambling operation.”

Investigators Gain Entry by Blocking Internet Access

That led to an investigation and eventual arrest by FBI agents. Over the course of two days, agents worked with the Nevada Gaming Control Board and a computer contractor for the hotel to shut off Internet access in the villas at various times. At one point, they were able to enter the suites by impersonating repair technicians, and recorded video while they were inside. That video was later used as evidence to obtain arrest warrants for the men allegedly running the ring.

According to Phua’s defense lawyers, the FBI used this method of gathering evidence, even though assistant US attorney Kimberly Frayn recommended against the tactic, saying that there “was a consent issue.” Typically, authorities can only search for evidence if they obtain a warrant or if a suspect waives their constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.

Tactic May Not Hold Up in Court

According to former federal prosecutor Mark Rasch, the fact that the FBI manipulated the situation to its benefit by shutting off the Internet in the villas might be enough for the evidence to be thrown out in court.

“Police are allowed to use a certain kind of subterfuge, but what they can’t do is create a certain kind of circumstance,” Rasch said.

Defense lawyers say that they only learned exactly what the agents had done after reviewing video recordings. That’s when they heard one official make a reference to the ruse.

“They were trying everything they could to get inside without a warrant,” defense lawyer Thomas Goldstein said to the Associated Press.

FBI Practices Questioned

This case is the third in recent weeks that has called into question the tactics used by federal law enforcement officers in order to collect evidence.

In one recent case, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) set up a fake Facebook account using information they obtained from a woman’s cell phone in the hopes of convincing associates to share incriminating details about drug use. The FBI also recently created a fake AP news story in order to fool a suspect into clicking on a link that would reveal his location to agents.

About Paul Phua

Paul Phua is well-known in poker circles, as he has played in some of the world’s largest cash games in Macau and Las Vegas.

He also participated in the first $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop tournament, and has played in many other high roller events around the world. Phua has plenty of friends in the world of high-stakes poker, which became evident when Phil Ivey and Andrew Robl combined to pay $2.5 million in bond money for both Paul and his son Darren Phua. Tom Dwan has also been a major supporter of the Phuas throughout the case.

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