Full Tilk Poker, an online poker company that illegally paid its board members over $440 million from its player accounts, was a global Ponzi scheme, said federal prosecutors Tuesday.
The U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, filed a revised civil lawsuit in New York on Tuesday against Full Tilt, PokerStars, Absolute Poker and other businesses that continued to operate in the U.S. even after the 2006 ban of payment processing to offshore gambling websites.
Full Tilt Poker allegedly used its player accounts to fund operations and make payments to its owners illegally. $444 million was used over four years to pay Full Tilt's board members, including famous poker players Christopher Jesus Ferguson and Howard Lederer, according to investors.
Full Tilt insiders lined their own pockets with funds picked from the pockets of their most loyal customers while blithely lying to both players and public alike about the safety and security of the money deposited with the company, Bharara said in a statement, saying that the company was operated as a massive Ponzi scheme against its own players.
Full Tilt Poker cheated and abused its own players to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and insiders lined their own pockets with funds picked from the pockets of their most loyal customers while blithely lying to both players and the public alike about the safety and security of the money deposited with the company, added Bharara.
The initial complaint, filed in April 2011, alleged that Full Tilt CEO Ray Bitar and board members Lederer, Ferguson and Rafael Furst defrauded players of $300 million by failing to maintain sufficient funds to pay out the players' deposits and winnings.
Prosecuters now accuse the executives of transferring player funds to their own accounts in Switerzland and other offshore locations, according to a Forbes report.
As of March, the company had only $60 million left in its bank accounts while owing around $390 million to gamblers around the world.
Some are questioning whether the proposed new allegations could withstand a legal challenge, according to Bloomberg.
This is gambling, said ex-federal prosecutor James Montana, now a partner in Chicago's Vedder Price LLC. People are constantly putting money on deposit. It's almost a guaranteed cash flow. It's a little different than your normal Ponzi scheme.
It's fundamentally unfair to call this a Ponzi scheme, Melinda Sarafa, a New York criminal-defense lawyer, told Bloomberg.
This was a poker business that had a legitimate business model but ran into processing disruptions, Sarafa said. It's not clear to me that this was an intentional plan to defraud customers and line pockets.
Full Tilt Poker on its website blamed government enforcement activities and significant theft for its cash-flow problems that began all the way back in 2010. The company claims that it has been actively exploring opportunities with outside investors in order to stabilize the company and pay back our players and that it is fully committed to paying them back in full and restoring confidence in our operations.