FBI Shuts Down Online Poker Giants

NEW YORK — Eleven operators of the largest online poker sites — PokerStars, FullTiltPoker, AbsolutePoker —  were indicted on federal charges of bank fraud and money laundering in an indictment unsealed in a Manhattan court.

Federal prosecutors are seeking to immediately shut down the sites and seek recovery of $3 billion from the companies. Already, a federal court has issued an order restraining approximately 76 bank accounts in 14 countries containing the proceeds of the charged offenses.

FullTiltPoker’s website already was down with its home page was supplanted by a display message explaining that “this domain name has been seized by the FBI pursuant to an arrest warrant.”

"These defendants, knowing full well that their businesswith U.S. customers and U.S. banks was illegal, tried to stack the deck," FBI spokeswoman Janice Fedarcyk said. "They lied to banks about the true nature of their business. Then, some of the defendants found banks willing to flout the law for a fee. The defendants bet the house that they could continue their scheme, and they lost."

No adult company or their officials, including those that process online transactions, were named in the indictment.

The FBI says that because U.S. banks and credit card issuers were largely unwilling to process their payments, the poker companies allegedly used fraudulent methods to circumvent federal law and trick institutions into processing payments on their behalf.

"For example, defendants Isai Sheinberg and Paul Tate of PokerStars, Raymond Bitar and Nelson Burtnick of FullTiltPoker and Scott Tom and Brent Beckley of AbsolutePoker, arranged for the money received from U.S. gamblers to be disguised as payments to hundreds of non-existent online merchants purporting to sell merchandise such as jewelry and golf balls," according to the indictment and civil complaint unsealed Friday.

Others charged include Ryan Lang, Bradley Franzen, Ira Rubin, Chad Elie and John Campos.

The defendants face charges ranging from violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, operation of illegal gambling business, conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy.