FBI raid's illegal, says Malaysian gambler
WHAT happened at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on the Fourth of July weekend might have stayed in Vegas, until a group of Asian high rollers lost their Internet connection while watching the World Cup at the casino's ultra-luxurious villas.
Now, it is up to a United States federal judge to determine whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents played fair by manufacturing the disruption as a ruse to enter the villas occupied by Phua Wei Seng and fellow guests after getting a tip from hotel employees of a suspicious gambling operation there.
If Phua, a Malaysian poker player who arrived in Las Vegas from Macau in June on his US$48-million (S$63-million) private jet, can convince a Las Vegas judge that the government's tactics violated his constitutional right to privacy, much of the evidence used to charge him and his associates may be thrown out.
When the FBI later raided the villas, agents found Phua, his son and another man with their laptops switched on to betting websites showing the live odds for World Cup games and instant messaging windows, while others in Phua's group sat in adjacent villas amid clusters of computers and monitors, and three large-screen televisions showing matches.
Phua, his 22-year-old son Darren and six others were arrested in July, accused of operating an illegal online sports-betting business. Four of the men and one woman pleaded guilty this week and agreed to forfeit about US$1 million, while charges against another defendant were dropped.
Phua, the alleged ringleader, and his son are set to have their first chance in court on Monday to challenge the government's investigative methods.
"This is not a close case," Phua's lawyers said in an Oct 28 request to suppress the evidence that the FBI had collected in its searches without a warrant.
The US Constitution's Fourth Amendment "establishes a process before agents may enter and search our homes and hotel rooms", added his lawyers.
The Justice Department countered that it followed the law and that judges have frequently endorsed the use of trickery and deception by law enforcement to gain access to a residence where criminal activity was suspected.
The case reveals the dark side of international sports wagering, a universe where researchers say hundreds of billions of dollars a year change hands. It also offers a glimpse into the rarefied world of so-called whales.
Phua, who also goes by Paul Phua, Darren Phua, business associate "Richard" Yong Seng Chen and Yong's son were part of a group that came to Las Vegas in June for the One Drop poker tournament.
Phua and Yong had negotiated US$60 million in credit at Caesars Palace, and they reserved three villas that normally go for US$25,000 a night. The hotel provides them free of charge to patrons like Phua, who gamble more than US$1 million a day.
Yong, who organised the junket, transferred chunks of as much as US$3 million of his credit to others in the 25-strong group to gamble with, according to casino ledgers.
"The whole world would die for these customers," the unidentified Caesar's executive told the FBI. "What they say, we do."
Yong, a 57-year-old businessman who organises trips to bring high-rollers to the VIP rooms of casinos in Macau and elsewhere, is among those who agreed to plead guilty.