Businessman, and avid poker player, Wei Seng ‘Paul’ Phua, has won a vital hand against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), after a US District Court Judge ruled that evidence obtained by FBI agents, posing as cable repairmen, would not be admissible in court.
Phua was arrested, along with seven other people, back in the summer, after FBI agents’ raided three villas at Caesars Palace, in connection with an illegal online gambling ring, focused on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The court heard how agents worked alongside Caesars hotel staff to deliberately cut off the Internet connection to the luxury villas, so they could send agents in posing as cable repairmen. The agents used hidden cameras to take footage of the set up, which were later used to obtain a warrant to legally search the premises, where the arrests were made.
Warrantless searches at Issue
It seems Judge Andrew Gordon believes the FBI has been watching too many movies.
“Allowing prosecutors to use the evidence would effectively allow the government to conduct warrantless searches of the vast majority of residences and hotel rooms in America.” Gordon stated before continuing. “The government need only disrupt the phone, cable, internet or some other ‘non-essential’ service, and reasonable people will opt to invite a third party onto their property to repair it, unwittingly allowing government agents into the most private spaces to view and record whatever and whomever they see.”
It’s great news for Phua, and not so great for six of the seven other defendants who have already agreed to stump up hefty fines in plea bargains. This includes Phua’s 23-year old son Darren. One other member of the group had all charges dropped. Civil libertarians were closely monitoring the case, as they believed it violated Fourth Amendment Rights when it comes to illegal search and seizure.
Justice Moves Slowly
The case has rolled on longer than giant boulders do in Indiana Jones movies. In February, US Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen determined the evidence to be inadmissible when it was first put forward. In her 32-page ruling Judge Leen said the FBI agents had made “false and misleading statements” in order to obtain court documents used to force their way into the villas. Assistant US Attorney Kimberley Frayn also warned the agents that their plan was prone to fall on its ass.
Phua has been held under house arrest since the summer. A situation that will be driving the poker mad Phua around the bend. His friend, and associate, Seng Chen ‘Richard’ Yong, was amongst the defendants who pleaded guilty in December. He paid his dues, agreed to leave the US, and promptly flew to Australia where he walked away with the AU$1,870,000 first prize in the Aussie Millions $100k Challenge.
From mugshot, to winners shot.
And Sam Trickett and Phil Ivey were by his side no less.
In terms of what happens next, media reports suggest that Phua could still be charged in relation to $13 million in bets wagered prior to the bungled FBI raid.
The case continues stumbles.