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FBI Agents Trick Betting Ring Members to Gather Evidence

Nov 01, 2014 - by Monica Erdei
FBI’s evidence against Paul Phua could be disregarded

FBI’s evidence against Paul Phua could be disregarded

After cutting off Internet access three Las Vegas luxury villas, FBI agents impersonated repair technicians to get inside and collect evidence.

Against the recommendation of an assistant U.S. attorney, Kimberly Frayn, the FBI went ahead with its plans and pretended to be repair technicians in order to get inside the villa. But lawyers representing four of the eight men charged in the case have filed a motion to dismiss all evidence collected that day. The prosecutor supposedly told FBI agents that “it was a consent issue.”

Under American laws, authorities need a warrant before searching a property, so defense lawyers challenged the actions described in detail by online gambling news, which were part of an investigation on an illegal sports betting operation.

If authorities don’t have the written permission, the person whose property is being inspected must first waive his constitutional protections against unreasonable searches. Otherwise, the evidence should not be used in trial, because it was improperly collected.

Fox News: Federal agents impersonated computer technicians to collect evidence in sports betting probe, lawyers say

FBI agents in Las Vegas had referred questions about their plan to the local US Attorney’s Office. Spokeswoman Natalie Collins said prosecutors were aware of the allegations, but declined to make any comments while the trial was pending.

According to American newspapers, the Drug Enforcement Administration set up a fake Facebook account, where it posted personal information and photos taken from the phone of a woman who had been arrested in a cocaine case. The idea was to trick her friends and associates into revealing incriminating information.

On another occasion, the FBI sent a fake news story to a suspect in a bomb-threat case, hoping he would click on the link thus allowing investigators to track down his location. The FBI had attributed the story to the Associated Press, causing the agency to react and describe the actions as “unacceptable”, claiming they undermined the publication’s credibility.

As for the gambling case, the criminal complaint revealed that the eight men came to the attention of authorities in June after requesting “an unusually large amount of electronics equipment and technical support” at their hotel. An electrical engineer working for the Las Vegas hotel said the equipment “appeared to be set up for an illegal gambling operation.”

FBI investigators tried to get into their apartment to gather evidence, but a former federal prosecutor, Mark Rasch, said the tactics they resorted will most likely not stand up in court. “Police are allowed to use a certain kind of subterfuge, but what they can’t do is create a certain kind of circumstance,” he said.

South China Morning Post: Dramatic FBI video shows how agents tricked their way into Paul Phua’s villa for gambling bust

Newspapers got their hands on 30 minutes of audio and video recordings of the FBI’s action plan to bust what appeared to be an illegal online betting operation in Las Vegas. The video was filmed through a lapel camera and shows how agents tricked their way into the villas where an alleged Asian gambling kingpin and his team were staying.

According to the defense, FBI agents shut off Internet access to Paul Phua Wei-seng’s villa at Caesars Palace, and then gained access to it by impersonating repair technicians. This is how authorities managed to collect the evidence used against the accused.

In the video obtained by the press, investigators are working on a set of code words to use while they were inside. One agent who adopted the name “Sam” – which he also used “for other stuff” in the past – is shown working on his cover story. The images briefly show another conversation about how investigators should dress.

“If you put on that shirt, you have to look the part. Go all the way,” said Mike Wood, a technician working for Caesars. He was advising Nevada Gaming Control Board Agent Ricardo Lopez before he entered one of the suites, on July 4. Lopez went back to the villa on July 5, when he pretended to fix an internet outage for several minutes.

Defense lawyer Thomas Goldstein described the operation as an “illegal search” and challenged the evidence in court.

CardsChat: Paul Phua Sports Betting Raid FBI Tactics Questioned by Legal Team

The FBI suspected that the eight men who rented villas at Caesars Palace were breaking the state’s gambling laws by running an unlicensed betting operation. Investigators spent two days working with the hotel’s computer contractor and the Nevada Gaming Control Board on shutting down their Internet access.

But they did not stop here. FBI agents impersonated repair staff to convince the customers to let them inside the apartments, and they even recorded what they found inside. The videos were the main evidence used to obtain the arrest warrant against the eight defendants.

Lawyers did not know how authorities had managed to get inside the suites until they overheard an official talk about cutting the Internet access. “They were trying everything they could to get inside without a warrant,” defense attorney Thomas Goldstein told reporters. Four out of the eight defendants have challenged the FBI’s actions in court.

Paul Phua and his son Darren were among those arrested. They were all charged with operating an illegal sports betting operation. Officials said Paul Phua is a high-ranking member of the 14K Triad, one of the world’s largest organized crime syndicates. Among gamblers, he is well-known for playing in high-stakes poker games in Macau, as well as in tournaments.

The poker community has supported the accused, and players Phil Ivey and Andrew Robl even offered $2.5 million towards Phua’s and his son’s bonds.

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