U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara today announced that his office has amended its civil complaint against Full Tilt Poker to include claims that Full Tilt Poker operated a global Ponzi scheme. The U.S. Attorney says that Full Tilt was not a legitimate poker operation but rather operated as a Ponzi scheme, routinely draining players' accounts for other purposes, including payments to company founders and members of the board, and in the process defrauded players of US$300 million.
The company's lawyer went on the record shortly thereafter and apparently admitted that in 2010, Full Tilt Poker had insufficient funds on hand to meet the demands of player withdrawals. He also said, apparenly on behalf of Full Tilt Poker, that he did not comprehend the statements made by Bharara with respect to the Ponzi scheme. A Ponzi scheme is a fraud whereby the source of distributions to the early investors consist primarily of a return of their own capital or money obtained from new investors and with the payments ultimately stopping when there are no further investors. The result is that everyone loses money except the perpetrators of the fraud.
On April 15 of this year, the U.S. indicted defendants associated with Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker on allegations that they fraudulently circumvented anti-money laundering laws and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) by disguising payments from U.S. gamblers as payments to fictitious online merchants selling other goods and services, lied to banks about the nature of their businesses and set up fictitious corporations, in order to open bank accounts to accept bets from U.S. players. Scheinberg, one of the founders of PokerStars, is alleged to have acquired a 30% interest in a small bank in Utah called SunFirst Bank in exchange for the Bank agreeing to process payments for PokerStars.
In April, the U.S. also filed a civil complaint against the individual defendants and the poker companies to recover US$3 billion in civil penalties for money laundering. Asset restraining orders were issued against more than 76 bank accounts in 14 countries, including Canada, to freeze the accounts on the basis that the funds are proceeds of crime.