Full Tilt Poker founder Ray Bitar pleaded guilty, and has struck a deal with US prosecutors.
Ray Bitar has given up on his defense against the charges that were brought against him by US prosecutors. Instead, the 41-year-old Bitar has chosen to strike a plea bargain. It seems that part of the reason that the deal has been struck is that Bitar is in exceptionally bad health, and is in California, waiting for a heart transplant. This is the first time that news regarding his health condition has been made public.
Bitar is the second of the eleven top poker executives that has been charged with money laundering, bank fraud, and various other online gambling offences. In April 2011 he was charged on five counts. Around the same time Full Tilt Poker had its assets frozen and was shut down. Bitar was facing a possible maximum of 65 years of a jail sentence for his part in the illegal activities.
In order to allow US players to continue making deposits after the US made it illegal for banking institutions to process any online gambling payments for US citizens, apparently Full Tilt Poker set up a number of websites as fronts to receive deposits, such as sites ‘selling’ watches, golf clubs, bicycles, jewelry, and more. It seems that not only was Bitar involved with alleged money laundering and bank fraud, it seems that he and his co-conspirators allegedly had been plundering the customer accounts, where players had made deposits and kept their online poker winnings too.
The US attorney on the case for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, said that it looked like the online poker site seemed to be run along the lines of a Ponzi scheme. There was about $350 million that was unaccounted for. Bharara has accused Bitar of bluffing his online poker customers, and fixing the game against them, so that ultimately, in this Ponzi-like scheme, players ended up with nothing.
Bitar has made a public statement explaining that he understands why many are angry with him. He notes that the online poker site should not have got into a situation in which it could not manage to pay players their funds.
It seems, according to Bitar’s lawyer, Johan Baughman, that the plea bargain that was struck is somewhat unusual, but that Bitar’s serious heart condition has been taken into account.