Travell Thomas, a New York poker player who holds two WSOPC rings, has been indicted by the US Attorney’s Manhattan office on charges of wire fraud, and is accused of being the head of the “largest fraudulent debt-collecting scheme ever to be prosecuted.”
According to Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Thomas’ company lied, bullied, and stole from vulnerable debtors across America, using numerous fraudulent tactics to get them to pay up.
The company allegedly collected some $31 million from thousands of US citizens by “making false threats and telling a host of lies,” an official statement from Bharara’s office said.
The company allegedly also frequently lied to victims about the values of the debts, forcing them to pay more than they actually owed.
The scheme involved telephoning debtors on behalf of genuine creditors, such as the Payday Loans company, and scaring victims with bogus legal threats.
The company would allegedly claim to be affiliated with local government or law enforcement agencies and tell the victims that they committed illegal acts while threatening them with nonexistant warrants or stating that their driving licenses would be revoked.
“The defendants disseminated to Company employees and used collection ‘scripts’ to solicit consumers by phone,” states the charge. “The scripts contained various misrepresentations designed to trick victims into paying purported debts.
“For example, the scripts falsely stated, among other things: ‘In the next 48 hours we will be handing the matter over to our fraud department who will work together with your local district attorneys [sic] office in attempting to resolve the matter’; … the collector was a ‘claims associate calling on behalf of the legal processing firm” who would ‘file with our affiliate litigator in _____ county, to serve you to appear to plea”; and the consumers’ voice was being recorded on a ‘federally recorded line’ for use ‘as admissible evidence.’ ”
The scheme was highly profitable for Thomas. According to Bharara’s office, he paid himself $750,000 in cash, while he and business partner, Maurice Sessum, who was also indicted, withdrew around $1.4 million from banks and ATMs.
Thomas used this to fund his gambling expenses, buy jewelry, and pay for his wedding reception, as well as cosmetic surgery for his wife.
Bharara is the very man who, in 2011, issued the Black Friday indictments against Full Tilt, PokerStars, and Absolute Poker, in the process bringing online poker in the US to its knees. Ironically, this was also the year Thomas won his first WSOPC ring.