Judge to decide fate of Vegas FBI ruse gambling case
LAS VEGAS — A federal judge is weighing the fate of an illegal sports betting case against a wealthy Malaysian businessman who says the FBI violated his rights by posing as Internet repairmen to get into his Las Vegas suite during the World Cup soccer tournament last summer.
Wei Seng “Paul” Phua and several others were arrested in July after federal agents raided the Caesars Palace villas where they were staying and seized numerous computers, cellphones and cash. Prosecutors said some $13 million in bets had been wagered up to that point.
Defense attorneys argued Monday that the evidence should be thrown out because of the way agents went about collecting information in order to seek a search warrant — enlisting a Caesars contractor to shut off the room’s Internet access so agents disguised as repairmen could enter and record footage with hidden cameras — and only revealing the ruse much later in the course of the case.
“You do not get to lie to the defendant,” about the underlying purposes of the searches, said defense attorney Thomas Goldstein.
A magistrate judge has called the search warrant fatally flawed, recommending that the U.S. District Court throw out the evidence. The magistrate judge recently denied another request from prosecutors to search six devices found in the rooms, saying it lacked probable cause, among other problems.
Federal prosecutors conceded mistakes Monday but argued that the government had done nothing malicious and had not violated Phua’s constitutional rights. They defended the government’s actions in seizing the evidence from the Caesars Palace suites.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon said he would rule at a later date.
Phua is the only remaining defendant among eight people arrested in the case, including his son Darren Wai Kit Phua, 23.
Six defendants pleaded guilty to lesser charges, forfeited large amounts of money and returned to Asia. Charges against one defendant were dismissed.
Darren Phua, described by attorneys as homesick, recently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and agreed to forfeit $150,000 seized and pay a $100,000 fine so he could return home to Asia.
A few days before he flew to Las Vegas last summer on his private jet, Paul Phua had been arrested and charged with operating an illegal sports gambling business in the Asian gambling hub of Macau.
In his U.S. case, Paul Phua is charged with two felony charges of operating an illegal gambling business and transmission of wagering information. The charges each carry a penalty of up to seven years in prison.
Whether or not Internet access is a necessity — akin to water and electricity — became a point of debate, as did hypothetical situations: If federal agents sent rats into a person’s house, could they enter under the guise of being exterminators? What if agents shut off a certified public accountants Internet a day before a tax filing deadline?
Prosecutor Kimberly Frayn pointed out that the agents didn’t shut off electricity, air conditioning or water “in the middle of a 115 degree day.” They shut off the high-speed Internet line and argued that the tenants in the Caesars Palace villas didn’t have to invite in the agents disguised as repairmen. They could have gotten back into the Internet via other means, she said.
“There is not a constitutional right to DSL,” she said, calling it a luxury not an essential.