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Story of Daniel Tzvetkoff: The Man who Brought about Black Friday

Hollywood is always on the lookout for a good story to turn into a blockbuster movie. One of the more recent announcements is that of Robert Luketic, the director and writer behind the movies ’21’ and ‘Legally Blonde.’ His newest project will deal with the life story of Daniel Tzvetkoff, a man who played the greatest individual role in making the hated Black Friday a reality.

Tzvetkoff’s life story truly has a lot of elements of a Hollywood script already, and in case you missed it, we bring you the tale of Daniel Tzvetkoff, the guy who made it all the way to the top and then hit the proverbial rock bottom in a span of only a few years.

Daniel Kim Tzvetkoff was born in Brisbane, Australia to middle-class parents. Although highly intelligent, he was never much of the social type. Instead of hanging around with his mates or wasting his time and energy on trying to make friends, Tzvetkoff retreated to the world of computers and the Internet. That was where he felt at home.

By the age of 13, he had his own web design business, at 16 he was animating cartoons for the New York Times online, and by 2000 he came up with software for processing online payments. His timing was impeccable, as the online market was just about to explode and he was right there to pick up his share of the pie.

It was in 2004 that he met his future business partner, the much older and much more experienced Sam Sciacca. They started the company named Intabill, dealing with processing payments for pharmaceutical companies, music and porn sites.

Business was good, but there is no such a thing as too much money. Both partners were looking for new opportunities and new markets where their services would come in handy. The passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006 presented them with a chance of a lifetime. The risk was there, but the potential rewards were worth it.

After the UIGEA had been passed, most major online processors facilitating gambling for US-based customers decided to pull out from the market. Although there was a lot of discussion at the time about the legality of online poker and if it actually fell under the jurisdiction of the Act, the big processing companies just couldn’t risk it. Enter Tzvetkoff and Sciacca.

Seizing the opportunity, the two signed contracts with three major players in the market, Poker Stars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker. This propelled Intabill from a company that was doing well to becoming a major player in the processing business.

In a matter of months Tzvetkoff was earning $3 million a week. He bought a Lamborghini and threw in $80,000 for an advanced driving coast. He splashed out on a $2.5 million condo on the Gold Coast and set up home with his girlfriend, Nicole.

The dream had become a reality for Tzvetkoff – a true movie-like story of rags to riches, if ever there was one (not that he grew up that poor at all, but nonetheless). Only two years later, in 2008, his net worth was an estimated $80 million. Everything was great, except for one thing. The business of Intabill wasn’t exactly legal. It was not illegal either, to be fair, but it was, at best, in a very grey area of the law. Daniel and his partner were riding the wave of their good fortune, but they were also attracting a lot of attention in the process – probably not the best idea if your business operation falls into the grey territory.

This did not deter Tzvetkoff from living the flamboyant life of a person who not only has tons of money to burn through, but also sits on a seemingly endless source of green. This was still not enough for the young millionaire and later in 2008 he entered a partnership that would turn out to be his demise.

He met Texan Curtis Pope and his partner John Scott Clark and together with them decided to expand his operation further.

Together with Pope, Tzvetkoff’s exploits became ever more daring. He joined forces with Pope’s company, Trendsact, and another called Impact Payments, run by an associate of Pope, John Scott Clark.  Both processed payday loans and soon billions of dollars of gambling proceeds were running through Trendsact and Impact Payment’s books as just that.

Things were looking good at the moment, but it was only an appearance, as Tzvetkoff was soon to find out. In August of 2008, a bank in Tbilisi (Georgia) froze their accounts, seizing $10 million of their assets just days prior to a Russian invasion. He even went to Georgia to meet up with the bank manager and barely made it out alive, as Russian forces struck at the exact time he was there. That money was clearly gone, but it was at least what one could call vis major.

Things to follow in 2009 were, however, much more heinous in nature. Upon signing the agreement with Pope and Clark, Sciacca and Tzvetkoff did not want their names to appear on any papers and had faith their partners would honor the gentlemen’s agreement. As it turned out, it was probably the biggest mistake of his career.

During that year, poker sites started complaining that they were not receiving the money that was supposed to be processed by the company. When confronted by Tzvetkoff about the issue and asked to release the funds he was holding in Trendsact’s account, Pope came back with a resounding ‘no,’ and instead went directly to the PokerStars CEO, promising full repayment. As Daniel’s name was never mentioned anywhere, he was left hanging in the balance as it was Intabill that filled those accounts with the money, but Pope was now refusing to honor their verbal agreement and there was next to nothing he could do.

‘”But why Curtis?” Daniel finally muttered, “Because I could,” Curtis smirked in return, suddenly darting his thick neck forward, “Because you f***d this up for everyone and now I’m taking care of business.”’

Tzvetkoff’s house of cards started crumbling down and he was but a helpless bystander in the entire process. His partner, Sam Sciacca, brought in a forensic accountant only to discover Daniel was taking the money out of Intabill’s accounts in the form of personal loans.

In 2006 everything was looking peachy for Tzvetkoff. By July of 2009, Intabill was completely out of business without a single cent in its account. It looked like things couldn’t really get any worse for him – but it was just the start of his hardships.

He was now being sued left and right for hundreds of millions and with his operations he got on the wrong side of both the authorities and the mob because of him skimming from the accounts. Tzvetkoff was now back home in Australia and had no idea that the FBI had started an investigation against him for money laundering and a plethora of other accusations revolving around the network of fake websites that he had in place to enable the poker sites to accept deposits from US-based customers. Unaware of all this, Tzvetkoff came back to Vegas in April of 2010, and this is when he was picked up by the Feds. As things were at the time, the wiz-kid was just relieved it was the authorities holding the gun to his head and not the mob.

He was facing charges of coming up with the scheme amounting to a $540 million racket over a two-year period and his personal debt was $143 million. All this together meant that he could face a penalty of up to 76 years in prison. Tzvetkoff was cornered and had only one way out – becoming an informant for the authorities and cutting a deal that would get him off the hook. Considering the alternative, it was no surprise he decided it was game over and started talking.

After serving eight months in jail he reportedly struck a deal with prosecutors – handing over 90,000 documents from his company, Intabill, and agreeing to give evidence against his co-accused. Within months, the websites of the poker giants were shut down simultaneously in the US and 12 of the website owners were charged.

There was probably no one else at the time more privy to all the inside information about the movement of money between the banks, intermediary processors and the poker sites, and his information played a key role in building the charges that brought the biggest poker sites to their knees and forced them out of the US market for good, or at least until such time there are clear regulations concerning online play.

Many of Tzvetkoff’s friends and associates were brought down during the court proceedings, including Curtis Pope, who was sentenced to 21 months in prison. Daniel was placed in the witness protection program with his wife and two children. The only real question that remained unanswered is what exactly happened with the money Tzvetkoff pulled out of Instabill’s accounts. The investigation couldn’t find any evidence of the alleged missing millions and that leaves open the possibility that, although the entire ordeal seems like a total fiasco, Tzvetkoff may have walked away a winner in the end.

The story of Daniel Tzvetkoff certainly seems like great movie material and it could be a great success once it hits the big screen if the producers and screenwriters do their job right. Poker fans will be waiting anxiously.

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Ivan Potocki

Ivan is an aspiring journalist writer from Bosnia and Herzegovina. With a degree in English Literature and a fiery work ethic, Ivan adds a dynamic and flexible element to the PokerUpdate writing staff.