Paul Phua may have thought he was in the clear after a judge tossed out the majority of the evidence federal prosecutors had against him on charges that he helped run an illegal sports betting ring in Las Vegas.
But things might not go that smoothly for the Malaysian businessman, as prosecutors seem to have found a new line of attack.
Federal prosecutors obtained a new indictment against Phua on Wednesday, one that will add a charge of conspiracy to the previous counts of operating an illegal gambling business and transmission of wagering information.
Phua will now have to make a May 20 court appearance in order to respond to those new charges.
However, defense attorneys for Phua say that the latest indictment is nothing more than a desperate move by prosecutors who can’t make a case against their client.
“A conspiracy charge is the darling of a prosecutor’s nursery,” said attorney David Chesnoff. “Mr. Phua maintains his innocence. You cannot be guilty of conspiracy if you never agreed to do anything that’s illegal.”
The latest charges come after US District Judge Andrew Gordon ruled last month that FBI agents violated Phua’s rights by using a ruse to enter his villa at Caesars Palace.
That visit was used to covertly collect evidence that was in turn used to justify a search warrant for a later raid on the villa.
In order to gain access the first time, the agents worked with casino contractors and gaming regulators to turn off the Internet access in the villa. That led to calls for technical support, after which the agents entered the villa under the guise of being technicians.
“Permitting the government to create the need for the occupant to invite a third party into his or her home would effectively allow the government to conduct warrantless searches of the vast majority of residences and hotel rooms in America,” Judge Gordon said during last month’s hearing, when he announced his decision.
“The government need only disrupt the phone, cable, Internet, or some other ‘non-essential service, and reasonable people will opt to invite a third party onto their property to repair it, unwittingly allowing government agents into the most private space to view and record whatever and whomever they see.”
That meant that evidence collected from that villa, both during the initial search and the later raid, could not be used. However, prosecutors say there is still enough evidence to make a case against Phua.
They say that while the evidence from the main villa has been tossed from the case, they are still free to use evidence recovered from the two other villas utilized by the group Phua was a part of.
Prosecutors may be banking on the conspiracy charge to make that evidence more relevant to their case, though defense lawyers have filed motions hoping to see that evidence dismissed as well.
If that evidence is allowed, prosecutors say there is enough there for them to get a conviction on one or more charges.
“The evidence demonstrates the defendant did much more than just place bets,” prosecutors said in court documents submitted this week. “Rather, the defendant maintained a leadership role in the illegal betting operation.”