Update: Online Poker Executives Guilty Plea Highlights the Additional Penalties Payment Processors When Processing Illicit Gambling Proceeds

Sep 24, 2012   

On September 19, 2012, Nelson Burtnick, former director of the payment processing department of Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit violations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (“UIGEA”), Bank Fraud, and Money Laundering, stemming from the April 15, 2011 indictment of eleven people in connection with their involvement in PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker.

The Department of Justice had charged Burtnick with multiple charges including violations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (“UIGEA”), conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, operating an illegal gambling business, and money laundering. In his plea deal, Burtnick pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to accept funds in connection with unlawful internet gambling, bank fraud, and money laundering, and two counts of accepting funds in connection with unlawful internet gambling. As a result of his guilty plea, Burtnick faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. A copy of the U.S. Department of Justices press release announcing the guilty plea can be read here.

As we have previously reported here, here and here, ongoing federal prosecutions have targeted internet poker operators and their payment processors for violations of federal law under UIGEA 31 U.S.C. §§ 5361-5366 and the Illegal Gambling Business Act (“IGBA”) found at 18 U.S.C. § 1955. However, as exemplified by Mr. Burtnicks indictment and guilty plea, payment processors face various other violations of federal law when accused of processing illicit gambling proceeds. These violations include bank fraud, found at 18 U.S.C. § 1344, which makes it a crime for “whoever knowingly executes, or attempts to execute, a scheme” to either: 1) defraud a financial institution; or 2) obtain any of the moneys under the custody or control of a financial institution by means of a false or fraudulent representation. Here, prosecutors alleged that Burtnick violated 18 U.S.C. § 1344 by deceiving U.S. financial institutions into processing payments for Poker companies from U.S. gamblers through disguising such payments as payments to non-existent online merchants and non-gambling businesses.

Another federal law of which payment processors must be aware is the prohibition against money laundering found at 18 U.S.C. § 1956. Generally speaking, “money laundering” is the act of concealing or disguising the nature, location, source, or ownership of money begotten through illicit means in order to make such funds appear as if earned through legitimate and lawful activity. More specifically, 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(2)(A) prohibits the transportation, transmission, or transfer of a monetary instrument or funds from a place in the U.S. to or through a place outside of the U.S. (or vice versa) “with the intent to promote the carrying on of a specified unlawful activity.” In its Indictment, the Government alleged that Burtnick violated 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(2)(A) by disguising payments by U.S. gamblers to Full Tilt and Poker Stars, both offshore entities, as payments to phony internet merchants. Bank accounts in the fake merchants names were opened in U.S. banks through which the poker companies could receive payments from the U.S. based gamblers.

More importantly, each of these crimes is separate and distinct from the illegal gambling activities themselves. Thus, regardless of whether a payment processor is charged under IGBA or UIGEA, acts of payment processors in disguising or misrepresenting the source of funds they process can subject the processor to criminal liability.

If you have questions pertaining to UIGEA, the BSA, anti-money laundering compliance, and how to ensure that your business maintains regulatory compliance at both the state and federal levels, or for information about Fuerst Ittleman David and Josephs experience litigating white collar criminal cases, please contact us at contact@fidjlaw.com