Friday September 21,2012 : LEDERER CONTINUES TO EXPOSE FULL TILT POKER'S DIRTY LAUNDRY
Parts 3 to 5 of interview series discusses finance and points fingers
Howard Lederer will have made few friends, and possibly more enemies, with his continuing series of video interviews with Poker News on the rise and fall of Full Tilt Poker this week
In the latest three episodes to be aired on the Poker News website the former FTP director and key figure in the company makes some scathing observations about his former colleagues and fellow investors, reserving some of his sharpest barbs for John Juanda, Phil Ivey and Perry Friedman.
In the third instalment, Lederer answers questions and talks about Black Friday and the financial situation the company was in after CEO Ray Bitar and finance director Nelson Burtnick allegedly took a unilateral operational decision to start crediting U.S. customer deposits before Full Tilt Poker received the funds, disrupted by actions against e-cash processors.
The resultant "backlog" ultimately amounted to a staggering $250 million, and members of the FTP board were apparently not consulted on the decision, creating tension within the company when the consequences surfaced.
Lederer discusses false reportage to the company's regulator, the Alderney Gaming Control Commission, in which FTP claimed it had cash to hand that amounted to over $40 million more than was necessary to cover the $330 million in player deposits…a subterfuge which was exposed when an audit revealed that the company had just $122 million in cash.
Lederer claims that he and his fellow directors were not made aware of the audit report, and he again claims ignorance of the operational activities surrounding this aspect of the scandal, criticising FTP operational management for a flawed decision that eventually involved hundreds of millions of dollars and should have been the subject of a consultation with the Board.
Lederer says some 100,000 people benefited from decision, exacerbated in February 2011 when CEO Bitar was warned by his financial department that the group would soon run out of cash.
"Ray didn't let on that this was going on… Clearly, things got out of hand and people in Dublin were trying to clean up the mess somehow and not telling the Board or the members," Lederer alleges.
Shockingly, it was against this backdrop that generous financial distributions were continuing to investors – presumably among them Lederer himself. He claims that had the beneficiaries of this largesse been aware of the company's financial situation they would have been prepared to delay the payments.
But, Lederer claims, they were not aware of the situation until a week prior to Black Friday in mid-April 2011. It was at this point that the directors were informed by Bitar that the company was in dire financial straits with a massive backlog. Yet other than vowing he was "shocked and upset" Lederer and his fellow directors did nothing about the wayward CEO.
Lederer seeks to justify this lack of concrete reaction by saying:
"I don't think there was any point in having a Board meeting right then. You have to understand first. You don't just go, ‘Oh, you didn't tell me about that? You're fired.' That's absurd."
From his own perspective, Lederer says that he knew he would be back in Dublin later that month and would then be in a better position to handle the issue.
That plan never materialised as Black Friday hit on April 15, and Lederer describes his shock when the news came through on email whilst he was in Dubai.
Amid the frantic communications that followed between FTP leaders and advisers the continued suitability of Bitar to helm the company again, surprisingly, was not discussed.
Lederer does admit that a press release from FTP assuring players that their funds were secure was "clearly inaccurate."
Part 4 of The Lederer Files moves on to the immediate aftermath of Black Friday, and the pressing problem of the multi-million dollar backlog.
Lederer and Chris Ferguson arrived in Dublin to discuss the many problems now threatening the company and its investors.
By April 21 a final financial report had quantified the shortfall between available cash and player deposits at a staggering $250 million, and this was discussed by Bitar, Burtnick, Ferguson and Lederer. The decision was made to call a board meeting to brief directors and advisers.
It appears that recriminations flew and the various conference calls were "not as productive" as Lederer had hoped in trying to plan a course of action.
He cites as an example the fact that Perry Friedman's lawyer represented him on one call, prompting Lederer to observe: "I was very concerned about the chilling effect that members like that would have on the group as a functioning entity."
"We were our own worst enemy," Lederer comments regarding the owners of FTP.
Those not involved in the crippling financial decision appeared to feel like victims despite being beneficiaries of company distributions, and it was difficult to persuade them as directors and owners to take responsibility in trying to resolve the issues.
The group apparently consisted of two basic factions: those who accepted that as owners and directors they had responsibilities and obligations, and those who were more concerned with blame than resolving the problems. Lederer takes a somewhat ‘holier than thou' attitude, professing:
"The problem with that way of thinking is if we figure out who is at fault, how is that going to get anyone paid? How is that going to solve the problem? The only thing that mattered was getting our customers paid. That was our moral responsibility to the poker community."
Later, when an offer was made for the company by casino mogul Jack Binion, Lederer says he was almost jeered off the line by some of his colleagues, and that reluctance to accept deals unattractive to certain investors continued to bedevil moves to extricate the company from its difficulties as the months passed despite warnings on the urgent need for a resolution
In part 5, Lederer is critical of Erick Lindgren, John Juanda, David Oppenheim, Phil Gordon and Phil Ivey, among others, over a range of alleged faults from not repaying multi-million dollar loans and being difficult to work with to abrogating their responsibilities.
Among several examples Lederer cites is Juanda's refusal to sign up for the Pokerstars acquisition deal, and Phil Ivey for launching a lawsuit against the company and looking to protect himself rather than help resolve the company's issues.
This criticism is interesting when viewed against the backdrop of subsequent events, where Ivey, Gordon and Andy Bloch were appointed to a new board that swept Bitar from power.