Thursday December 18,2014 : F.B.I. QUIZZED ON CONDUCT IN PHUA SPORTS BETTING CASE (Update)
Judge questions several parties in examination to test admissability of evidence.
Witnesses from the Nevada Gaming Control Board, the FBI, Caesars Palace and a service provider have been closely questioned regarding their conduct in a sting operation against a $13 million online gambling ring allegedly operating out of the Caesars Palace resort in Las Vegas during the FIFA World Cup football championships earlier this year
Associated Press reports that a Las Vegas judge is being asked by defence lawyers to throw out evidence against Malaysian businessman Wei Seng "Paul" Phua (50) and his son, Darren Wai Kit Phua (23).
For the past three days U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen has been examining the circumstances surrounding the FBI operation, in which agents gained entry to the Phuas' luxury suites by disconnecting the internet and pretending to be repairmen in order to gather evidence.
If the judge finds that the evidence was illegally obtained, it could be suppressed, seriously harming the government case against the Phuas.
The video evidence that was obtained in the sting operation was later used to obtain a full search warrant, enabling agents to raid the suites and arrest Phua and other individuals….but it now appears that the judge who issued the warrant was not fully informed about the tactics used to gather the initial evidence – that obtained through the internet disconnect ruse.
Nevada Gaming Control Board special agent Ricardo Lopez worked closely on the project with the FBI and told Judge Leen that a government attorney had been briefed on the proposed operation but had advised against it. They therefore did not possess any warrant to disable the Phua suite's internet connection in order to gain access and gather evidence for a search warrant application.
Under defence questioning, Lopez said that the FBI did not have consent from Caesars Palace, although FBI agent Minh Pham's testimony earlier this week was that investigators had consent from an hotel employee.
Earlier this week Paul Urban, a security chief for Caesars Entertainment, told Judge Leen that he had checked with his company's lawyers regarding the planned ruse and was advised not to grant consent on grounds of guest privacy.
Michael Wood, the Caesars Palace consultant who worked most closely with the state and federal agents, testified that he had provided the agents with appropriate work clothing to pose as internet repairmen working for his company, but had cooperated only because he assumed that the operation had been fully approved by Caesars management.
Another FBI agent, Mike Kung, was also closely questioned by defence lawyers, who asked him whether he knew that no warrant had been issued for the internet ruse. Kung said that he assumed everything was in order because his fellow agents had consulted with federal lawyers and prosecutors, along with Caesars management.
Phua's defence team is suggesting that when a full search warrant was requested by the FBI, agents did not disclose the internet deception used to garner evidence for the warrant application, and they have further alleged that the FBI may have omitted key references to the ruse from documents furnished them under court discovery procedures.
Judge Leen intends to continue probing the issue today (Thursday) with a re-examination of agent Pham before deciding on the admissibility of the evidence used to obtain the search warrant, and evidence that flows from that warrant's execution.
The Phua remain in Las Vegas on a $2 million bail bond and are required to wear GPS location devices.
Last week five Chinese associates of the Phuas pleaded guilty to reduced charges in order to return to their homes. The plea bargain included fines totalling $950,000 and hundreds of thousands of dollars each in forfeitures. All are barred from the United States for the next five years.