Pual Phua’s legal team says that controversial FBI tactics used to gain access to three villas at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in order to find evidence against the poker pro and others accused of running an illegal sports gambling ring may not even have been legal.
That accusation was made in court by lawyers representing four of the eight defendants in the case, which involves an alleged World Cup sports betting ring that was broken up in July.
According to a court filing by defense attorneys, FBI agents worked with the Nevada Gaming Control Board and hotel contractors in order to shut off Internet access in the villas being used by Phua and the other defendants at various times over the course of two days.
They then used these outages to pose as hotel repair technicians and gain access to the suites. While inside, they recorded video that was later used as justification to obtain a warrant to arrest their suspects.
Video Shows Agents Gathering Evidence
In the video, which was obtained by the Associated Press (AP), agents can be seen and heard walking around the villas acting like repairmen. The video also reveals some of the evidence that was found during these visits to the rooms.
“I got the URL for the site they were wagering on,” one agent can be heard saying, presumably after having spent time in a villa. “Phua had the odds up right on his page the whole time,” he later says.
While the FBI ruse may have been effective, it may not have been legal, and attorneys for the defendants are now hoping to have that evidence thrown out as a result. According to the defense counsel, the FBI chose to use this tactic, despite the fact that assistant US Attorney Kimberly Frayn recommended against it, saying that there “was a consent issue.”
Crossing the Legal Line
Other prosecutors have agreed, saying that cutting off a utility in order to gain access to the villas may have crossed a legal line.
“Police are allowed to use a certain kind of subterfuge, but what they can’t do is create a certain kind of circumstance,” said former federal prosecutor Mark Rasch.
It’s possible that the FBI may have violated the defendants’ constitutional protection against unreasonable searches when they entered the villas. Typically, that protection exists unless an individual voluntarily waives it, or unless authorities obtain a warrant. If the evidence was collected illegally, it will not be admissible at trial.
The FBI has referred questions about its methods to the US Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas, but that office has refused to comment, citing the pending trial. The FBI has recently faced criticism in several cases for using questionable tactics in order to trick suspects into revealing information.
Paul Phua: Poker Pro or Criminal?
Phua has been the highest-profile defendant in the case, as officials have alleged that he is a high-ranking member of the 14K Triad, an organized crime group in China somewhat akin to the Western Mafia. Whether that is true or not, Phua is well-known to the poker community, as he has played in major events like the Big One for One Drop, as well as in high-stakes cash games.
His connection to some of poker’s biggest names has also been well-documented: Tom Dwan was with Phua and his son Darren when they were arrested, while Andrew Robl and Phil Ivey put up $2.5 million in bond money for both the Phuas.