Ray Bitar, one of the founders of internet poker giant Full Tilt Poker, has struck a plea deal with U.S. authorities in his illegal online gaming case as he awaits a heart transplant.
Bitar’s lawyer, John Baughman, confirmed to the Guardian that an agreement has been made with the criminal prosecution pursuing the case. Details of the agreement, including how long Bitar will remain behind bars, have not been disclosed.
Full Tilt Poker was one of several foreign-based online gaming operators to be shut down by the U.S. Department of Justice in April 2011. Licensed in Alderney and in the U.K., the company allegedly bilked players out of some $1 billion. Bitar was one of 11 senior company officials to be indicted on five counts relating to money laundering, bank fraud and online gaming offenses. Further investigations alleged that Bitar and his co-conspirators had secretly plundered purportedly ring-fenced customer accounts, where poker players thought they had safely deposited cash and winnings. He was extradited to the U.S. last July.
“Full Tilt was not a legitimate poker company, but a global Ponzi scheme,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a previous release about the multi-year case.
“Full Tilt insiders lined their own pockets with funds picked from the pockets of their most loyal customers while blithely lying to both players and the public alike about the safety and security of the money deposited with the company.”
Full Tilt was formed in 2004 by a group of poker professionals including Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey and Chris Ferguson.
Unable to repay its customers, Full Tilt was eventually bought by the Rational Group, which also purchased PokerStars in a plea agreement that saw the U.S. government dismiss with prejudice all civil complaints against the two companies. Criminal charges against the founders remain in place.
Bitar, 41, has now abandoned his defense against those criminal charges as he awaits a heart transplant in California. He faced a maximum jail sentence of 65 years. Baughman confirmed that an unusual plea bargain had been struck, which took account of his exceptional health circumstances.