Defense lawyers representing four of the eight men charged in the Paul Phua sports betting case say that FBI agents used an illegal ruse in order to collect evidence before arresting their clients.
According to a motion filed Tuesday in a Las Vegas federal court, lawyers are seeking to dismiss evidence in the case collected after FBI agents posed as repair technicians in order to gain entrance to the Caesars Palace villas that hosted the alleged sports betting ring.
The case in question dates back to early July, when Phua and seven others allegedly set up a sports betting ring for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in three suites at the Las Vegas Strip resort.
Workers at Caesars began to get suspicious as the occupants of those villas started to request “an unusually large amount of electronics equipment and technical support,” with one of the engineers noting that whole set up looked like it was designed to take illegal sports bets.
FBI Agents Cut Internet Access
That triggered a more in-depth law enforcement investigation. In order to gain access to the villas, federal agents worked with state gaming authorities and a hotel contractor in order to start intermittently shutting off Internet access to the villas where the suspected betting ring was being hosted.
Eventually, investigators gained direct access to the rooms by posing as repair technicians, at which point they recorded video of what was going on inside of the villas. That information was then used as evidence to obtain warrants to arrest the defendants.
This strategy wasn’t known to defense attorneys until after they examined the videos that were taken by the agents. On one tape, they found an official making reference to turning off the Internet access in the villas.
“They were trying everything they could to get inside without a warrant,” defense attorney Thomas Goldstein told the Associated Press.
Tactics Questioned from the Beginning
As it turned out, there were questions raised about these tactics from before they were even used. Assistant US Attorney Kimberly Frayn recommended against using the tactics, reportedly telling FBI agents that there could be “a consent issue” with their plan. Other prosecutors also agree that the method used to gather that evidence will likely not hold up in court.
“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.
The question is whether the FBI’s ruse turned their entrance into the villas into an unreasonable search. The Constitution of the United States protects individuals against unreasonable searches, a protection that exists unless authorities obtain a search warrant or that right is voluntarily waived by the defendant.
Phua Prominent in Poker Circles
Phua was already a well-known figure in the world of high-stakes poker before the incident, known to gamble in some of the world’s biggest cash games.
He also participated in major poker tournaments, such as the first $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop. Phua’s relationships with the high-stakes poker community have benefitted him since his arrest: Phil Ivey and Andrew Robl combined to put up $2.5 million in bond money for him and his son Darren, while Tom Dwan was with him at the time of his arrest and has been seen talking to defense attorneys at some court appearances.
The eight defendants in this case all face charges of operating an illegal gambling business and the transmission of wagering information. Paul Phua additionally faces charges of running an illegal sports betting ring in Macau.