San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

After U.S. crackdown, online poker headquarters raided in Costa Rica

The Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) raided several offices and residential locations Friday in search of three suspects connected to online gambling site Absolute Poker, also known as UltimateBet, and a separate online poker site called PokerStars. According to news reports, the raids were done to arrest Absolute Poker executive Scott Tom, Olman Rimola, the owner of Innovative Data Solutions (IDS) where Absolute Poker was housed, and a third man, whose name The Tico Times could not independently verify until OIJ offices open on Monday. The men are allegedly being investigated for money laundering and bank fraud.

On April 15, the U.S. government shut down online lucrative poker sites PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker on a day known as “Black Friday” within poker circles. The OIJ raids appeared to be prompted by the closing of those websites. According to an extensive article in the St. Petersburg Times on the online poker crackdown, “the government seized the websites and more than 75 bank accounts and indicted 11 people on charges of illegal Internet gambling, bank fraud and money laundering.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a statement “titled “Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges Principals of Three Largest Poker Companies with Bank Fraud, Illegal Gambling Offenses and Laundering Billions in Illegal Gambling Proceeds.” Of the 11 men, four were presumed to be tied to or living in Costa Rica, including Scott Tom, Brent Beckley, Bradley Franzen and Ira Rubin.

On April 18, Franzen turned himself in and pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan federal court. A week later, on April 25, Rubin was arrested in Guatemala, according to multiple U.S. news reports. The reports said Rubin appeared in a Miami federal court on April 27, though he refused to give a plea of innocent or guilty without the presence of his lawyer. To date, four of the 11 men are in custody in the U.S.  

Tom was not at his residence in Escazú during the OIJ raid on Friday. Both Tom’s and Beckley’s whereabouts are unknown. Beckley is Tom’s half-brother, the St. Petersburg Times wrote.

“As charged, these defendants concocted an elaborate criminal fraud scheme, alternately tricking some U.S. banks and effectively bribing others to assure the continued flow of billions in illegal gambling profits,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said according to the FBI release. “Moreover, as we allege, in their zeal to circumvent the gambling laws, the defendants also engaged in massive money laundering and bank fraud. Foreign firms that choose to operate in the United States are not free to flout the laws they don’t like simply because they can’t bear to be parted from their profits.”

The U.S. online poker industry, which annually rakes in billions of dollars, was forever altered when the U.S. enacted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) on Oct. 13, 2006. The UIGEA made it a federal crime for gambling businesses to “knowingly accept” most forms of payment “in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful internet gambling.”

Unwilling to relinquish to their billion dollar sites, many of the online poker companies attempted to circumvent the new law and developed intricate methods to continue to allow U.S. based gamblers to play on their sites.  

“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 these institutions into processing payments on their behalf,” the FBI statement read. “For example, defendants Isai Scheinberg and Paul Tate of PokerStars, Raymond Bitar and Nelson Burtnick of Full Tilt Poker, and Scott Tom and Brent Beckley of Absolute Poker, 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. Of the billions of dollars in payment transactions that the poker companies tricked U.S. banks into processing, approximately one-third or more of the funds went directly to the poker companies as revenue through the ‘rake’ charged to players on almost every poker hand played online.”

In addition to the raid on Tom’s home in Escazú, the OIJ also raided the offices of IDS, the central office of PokerStars, which is located in the Forum building in Santa Ana, and the home of Rimola’s mother in Escazú, according to the Teletica news station. None of three suspects were located in the searches. Rimola was a former mayoral candidate in Escazú.      

For more on this story, follow and see the May 13 print edition of The Tico Times

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