Online Poker Payment Processor Gets Five Months in Prison

A Las Vegas man who worked for online poker companies was sentenced to five months in prison for helping deceive banks into processing hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal gambling transactions.

Chad Elie, 32, was one of 11 people charged in an April 2011 indictment targeting the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan sentenced Elie today in federal court in Manhattan, saying the defendant “really didn’t care whether what he was doing was legal.”

“He was in a sense playing a game with the government, a catch-me-if-you-can kind of game,” Kaplan said today about Elie. “That just can’t be overlooked.”

Prosecutors allege that after the U.S. implemented the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006, which barred banks from processing payments to offshore gambling websites, the three companies worked around the ban to continue operating in the U.S.

Elie pleaded guilty to conspiracy in March, admitting that he served as a “payment processor” for the poker companies and lied to U.S. banks about the nature of the financial transactions they were processing.

A lawyer for Elie, Barry Berke, asked that his client be sentenced to six months of home confinement, two years of probation and community service, arguing that he has accepted responsibility for his actions.

Elie Apologizes

Dressed in a gray suit and black-framed glasses, Elie stood to give a brief statement to the court. “I’d just like to apologize to my family and friends for the pain and disappointment I caused them and ask for their forgiveness,” he said.

Kaplan said a sentence without jail time would be too lenient. Commenting on activities of all defendants involved in the case, Kaplan said “there was a deliberate or at least criminally reckless spitting in the eyes of the government and the laws of the United States.”

Berke declined to comment on the sentence after the hearing.

Last month, Nelson Burtnick, the head of payment processing for Ireland-based Full Tilt Poker, pleaded guilty to taking part in the scheme while working at both Isle of Man-based PokerStars and later at Full Tilt.

In July, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting the case, as well as a civil suit against the three gambling companies, announced a $731 million settlement with PokerStars and Full Tilt. PokerStars agreed to forfeit $547 million.

PokerStars agreed to acquire the assets of Full Tilt, whose U.S. victims will be able to seek compensation from the Justice Department from the funds, prosecutors said at the time.

The case is U.S. v. Tzvetkoff, 10-CR-00336, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

To contact the reporter on this story: Christie Smythe in New York at csmythe1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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