02/01/2012 : FULL TILT POKER BACK IN THE HEADLINES (Update)
Reports that FTP owners and DoJ have made progress on forfeiture deal, and players' RICO prosecution turned down
The Full Tilt Poker debacle was back on the front pages this week with numerous reports in mainstream and online media that the troubled internet poker company's owners were approaching agreement with the US Department of Justice on unspecified forfeiture arrangements that could lead to US players being paid at least some of the monies owed to them.
Apparently, the DoJ will dismiss its civil forfeiture proceedings against FTP, which removes liability for the company's shareholders…but this will not change the Department's individual proceedings against FTP-connected persons named in the Black Friday indictments, such as Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson and Ray Bitar, who have until March 19, 2012 to respond to the amended civil complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. This is the third extension they have been granted to respond to the accusations.
Once again, much of the information appeared to flow from ‘unofficial' remarks made by an American lawyer who is clearly deeply involved in the issue, Jeff Ifrah.
Agreement on forfeiture would also enable further progress to be made in the acquisition of FTP by the French Groupe Bernard Tapie, said to be still involved in its due diligence on the deal. Groupe Bernard Tapie exec and son of the owner, Laurent Tapie, was quoted as saying his company is attempting to reactivate Full Tilt Poker's license with the Alderney Gambling Control Commission.
FTP has also been successful in fending off a RICO class action filed by poker players led by Steve Segal, Nick Hammer, Robin Hougdahl, and Todd Terry (see previous InfoPowa reports) which called for the return of players’ funds and for subsequent damages.
The Bloomberg business news agency reported Tuesday that U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand dismissed the $150 million civil claim against Raymond Bitar, Full Tilt Poker, Pocket Kings Ltd, Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey, Chris Ferguson, John Juanda, Jennifer Harman-Traniello, Phil Gordon, Erick Lindgren, Erik Seidel, Andy Bloch, Mike Matusow, Gus Hansen, Allen Cunningham and Patrik Antonius on Monday.
“It remains unclear whether the direct cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries was the decision by the U.S. Attorney’s office to temporarily shut down the Full Tilt poker website and seize the company’s assets,” Sand said in his judgement, “or was instead as plaintiffs’ conversion allegations suggest, the subsequent decision by one or more of the defendants to halt player withdrawals.”
Judge Sand allowed the players’ conversion claim to move forward against three of the five Full Tilt units seeking dismissal and said the players could amend their claims against the other two entities.
“The mere fact that Full Tilt Poker customers maintained player accounts on the website that they subsequently could not access is therefore insufficient to establish a conversion claim against these defendants. Nor have Plaintiffs alleged any additional facts, demonstrating that either company exercised control over the player accounts, or played any role in the decision to prevent Full Tilt Poker customers from withdrawing the money in their accounts,” he ruled.
The judge concluded that while the claim can proceed with respect to Pocket Kings, Vantage Ltd. and Filco, it could not continue with the individuals named in the original complaint.
“Plaintiffs have pled sufficient facts to establish a plausible inference that defendants Pocket Kings, Vantage and Filco ‘played some role’ in the conversion. The fact that the three defendants worked together to maintain the Full Tilt website makes it plausible to infer that they also worked together to block Plaintiffs’ access to the money in their accounts. We therefore deny Defendants’ motion to dismiss the conversion claims against defendants Pocket Kings, Vantage and Filco but grant it with respect to Tiltware and Pocket Kings Consulting,” Judge Sand opined.
The case is Segal v. Bitar, 11-cv-4521, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).