Paul Phua, the high stakes poker player currently standing trial for allegedly masterminding a multi-million dollar World Cup betting ring from inside Caesars Palace, has received a huge lifeline in his bid to leave court a free man.
On Friday a US district judge called for the evidence gathered by the FBI during a controversial sting operation to be thrown out of court, essentially gutting the prosecution’s case.
The FBI violated Phua’s rights when agents asked Caesars staff to cut the internet connection to three luxury high-security villas, rented by Phua and associates, before posing as repair technicians to gain access, said the judge.
He also ruled that the FBI had duped a magistrate judge into granting a search warrant by not disclosing full details of their plans.
The defense said previously that it had been shocked to learn that the FBI had enlisted the help of a Caesars contractor to shut down wireless access.
“Law enforcement can’t break something in your house and pose as repair people to get inside,” said attorney David Chesnoff.
Fourth Amendment Violation
US District Judge Andrew Gordon agreed, ruling that the operation violated Phua’s Fourth Amendment rights. The amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” and requires warrants to be supported by “probably cause.”
“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,” Gordon wrote in his decision.Â
“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 spaces to view and record whatever and whomever they see.”
$300 Million in Illegal Bets
While the case against Phua is now decimated, it may still go ahead. Prosecutors claim Phua, along with seven others including his son, Darren Phua, had been running what the Gambling Control Board described as a high-tech “wire room,” where a network of computers were used to take illegal World Cup bets from around the world.
Investigators say the gambling ring processed $300 million in sports bets during their stay in Vegas.
Five members of the group, including poker player Richard Yong, pled guilty to misdemeanor charges, each receiving six-figure fines and five years of probation, on condition they stay out of the United States during that period.
Phua junior, who initially pled not guilty like his father, recently took a plea bargain, citing homesickness for his native Malaysia. It’s believed he will receive a similar sentence.
The defense also denies claims that Phua has criminal links to the 14K Triads.