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Black Friday Prosecutor Too Bent on Drama?

The U.S. attorney responsible for waging war against online poker in the United States has come under fire from a federal judge for issuing press releases that are highly dramatic and often take on the tone of tabloid journalism.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has been accused by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Sullivan of dramatizing certain cases after charges have been filed in such a way that may be prejudicial to the defendants. Remarks by Bharara’s office may be a bit too judgmental against those who are accused of violating the law, but haven’t been convicted of any offenses, the judge said.

Many will recall that in September 2011, following the Black Friday charges against PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, UltimateBet and Absolute Poker five months earlier, Bharara referred to Full Tilt as a “global Ponzi scheme.” Part of the colorful language in that press release stated that “Full Tilt insiders lined their own pockets with funds picked from the pockets of their most loyal customers….”

The most recent incident involves two New York legislators and four others who have been charged with bribery, fraud and extortion. The statement issued by Bharara’s office stated that “a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government.” The U.S. attorney’s press release goes on to say that the complaint against the defendants “describes an unappetizing smorgasbord of graft and greed.”

New York State Senator Malcolm Smith and New York City Council Member Daniel Halloran were among those charged in that case. Bharara and his U.S. attorney colleagues may be die-hard football fans, as the release also stated that “Smith drew up the game plan and Councilman Halloran essentially quarterbacked that drive by finding party chairmen who were wide open to receiving bribes.”

Regarding the press release pertaining to the New York lawmakers, Judge Sullivan said at a panel discussion of the Practising Law Institute that the U.S. attorney statement “seems to be designed for tabloid consumption. . . . there should be a question asked that is that appropriate at the preconviction stage.”

It’s quite unusual for a federal judge to speak out in such a manner against the prosecutor’s office, according to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog. A number of attorneys were surprised at Sullivan’s comments, especially considering his typically tough stance toward wayward politicians.

Another panelist happened to be Richard Zabel, who toils as a deputy U.S. attorney under Bharara’s charge. Zabel supported his boss by saying, “The purpose of a quote is to be quoted and draw attention to the case. Laypeople can’t read a complaint.”

It’s one thing to call attention to a case. It’s quite another to unduly influence the public with language that seeks to dramatize the charges. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?



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Charles Rettmuller

Charles has been an avid poker player for a number of years, both live and online. He holds a degree in journalism and previously worked as a reporter for a Chicago-based newspaper. Charles joined the PokerUpdate team in early 2012 and writes daily news articles for the site.