July 7,2012 : FULL TILT POKER CHIEF STAYS IN JAIL FOR NOW (Update)
New York court affirms detention until bail conditions are met
The stringent bail conditions imposed on Full Tilt Poker CEO Ray Bitar, who surrendered to US federal authorities last Monday after flying in from Ireland were suspended by a New York federal court Friday, ensuring that he remains in jail over the weekend.
The court heard evidence from Bitar's legal representatives that he was in a position to meet the tough bail conditions: $2.4 million – a million of it in hard cash – and the surrender his passport, along with territorial restrictions on his movements.
However, federal prosecutors insisted that Bitar should remain in jail, using charges in a new indictment unsealed after his detention as justification, and claiming that the severity of the fresh charges may result in him absconding. The prosecution therefore filed a motion for pre-trial detention, triggering a protracted legal debate on the issue.
In the end, Judge Paul Engelmayer suspended the granting of bail pending a hearing before Judge Lewis Kaplan, the judicial officer who has been involved most extensively in the Black Friday indictments.
In the meantime, Bitar will remain in detention until Judge Kaplan is available to hear the arguments, which defence lawyers hoped would be a matter of days.
The poker information blog Diamond Flush clearly studied federal submissions on the Bitar issue extensively, reporting that as far back as March 2011 Bitar had considered returning to the US after being urged to do so "repeatedly" by the Department of Justice.
The federal documents also apparently give interesting insights into the corporate happenings at Full Tilt's Irish headquarters, claiming that Bitar defeated a shareholder revolt on grounds that: “…his role at the company was too critical, and that he and only he could raise money from new investors who might acquire a controlling stake in the company to support its continued operations outside the United States.”
The DoJ maintains Bitar was well aware that FTP was by then a Ponzi scheme, and his fight to keep control was rooted in a desire to prevent the entire scheme from unravelling.
The feds allege that Bitar clearly wanted the capacity to keep authorising his own pay cheques, receiving “over $2 million in salary payments” between Black Friday and his surrender to the US authorities.
The DoJ court documentation also alleges that Bitar paid himself “at least” $40 million whilst he was in charge, “…and has provided no accounting for where those funds now are.”
Diamond Flush notes that: "Further, the government alleges that “earlier this year, the defendant attempted to access over $24 million held in his name in a foreign bank account that had not been listed in the Indictment or restraining order, and of which the Government had not been aware … The recent discovery of these accounts raises questions about Bitar’s willingness to comply with the restraining order … and about what other overseas accounts Bitar may have.”
Federal officials say they are concerned that Bitar could take flight if given the opportunity to do so, and that the millions he holds in foreign banks could be used “to reimburse Bitar’s friends and family costs associated with the forfeiture of his bail bond.”
Industry observers starved of knowledge on the latest developments regarding the possible take-over of Full Tilt by rival Pokerstars will also be interested in an oblique reference to that possibility.
Last week's news that Pokerstars had recently sent a team into the FTP headquarters in Ireland may have been confirmed by DoJ claims that Bitar had little choice but to surrender "shortly before new ownership was expected to take over at Full Tilt Poker and terminate Bitar anyway, jeopardizing his ability to remain in Ireland.”