Darren Phua Pleads Guilty in Illegal Online Sports Betting Case in Las Vegas
Darren Phua has pleaded guilty in a case centered around an illegal World Cup betting ring. Darren Phua is the son of gambling mogul Paul Phua Wei Sang, who is accused of the same crimes.
When Darren Phua’s lawyer was asked why the 23-year old pleaded guilty to the charges, the lawyer indicated it had to do with “homesickness” for his homeland of Malaysia. In many quarters, legal experts believed the Phuas had a chance to walk on the charges, because of serious questions regarding the way evidence was obtained in the case.
Paul Phua Continues His Defense
Phua’s lawyers had argued that the Constitution’s 4th Amendment protects suspects from “unreasonable search and seizure” by the U.S. government. Even non-citizens are given protections against unreasonable searches. In the case of the Phua family, FBI agents and Nevada Gaming Control Board agents are thought to have entered the men’s hotel rooms at Caesars Palace under false pretenses.
To get agents in the illegal betting ring’s suites at Caesars Palace, the FBI had a local Internet service provider provide intermittent service to the Phuas’ rooms. When they called for tech support, the FBI sent agents into their rooms dressed as tech support.
Illegal Search and Seizure
Through this means, the law enforcement personnel collected evidence that the Phuas were engaged in an illegal World Cup betting syndicate, along with 6 other Malaysian men. The Malaysian Chronicle published a quote from a government report which indicated the US government’s case is not that strong, or at least that Phua’s defense team believes it isn’t. Of course, his chief lawyer is described as the “official lawyer for Barisan Nasional”, the National Front political party which runs the country.
The report from a Malaysian newspaper continued, “It remains to be seen whether Phua Senior (Paul Phua) will continue to fight the charges against him in light of his son’s capitulation. His defence team has always argued that the surveillance methods used by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigators were an illegal, unconstitutional breach of the Phuas’ Fourth Amendment right.”
Scandal in Malaysia
The Malaysian people have followed the case closely after Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi wrote a letter to the FBI showing his support for Paul Phua, saying he was doing important work on behalf of his country’s national security. Mr. Zahid’s comments caused a firestorm of controversy, because of perceived favoritism for the professional poker player and gaming millionaire. Phua’s criminal history in Malaysia also came to light.
Judge Leen Threw Out Evidence
Back in a federal court in Las Vegas, Nevada, the case against Paul Phua has suffered a number of serious setbacks. Judge Peggy Leen, who is presiding over the case, said in a ruling in February 2015 that the FBI evidence is “fatally flawed” due to “false and misleading statements” by agents of who investigated Phua’s hotel rooms.
The bulk of evidence appears to have been thrown out of the court, so the U.S. jury which sees the case will never hear about any of that evidence. The federal prosecutors have been able to get 7 of the 8 members of the crime ring to admit they were guilty, so that is the best evidence against Paul Phua.
14K Triad Ties
One of the ways the FBI justified a search warrant in the Caesars Palace investigation was evidence of alleged connections to the 14K Triad, which is run out of the Hong Kong. Malaysian police once came to the same conclusion. It is true that Hong Kong authorities, less than a month prior to Phua’s arrest, also detained Phua and 15 other men for trying to run an illegal World Cup operation out of Hong Kong. At the time, Paul Phua was deported from China, back to his home country. That stay wasn’t long, as Phua later turned up at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip. Staff grew suspicious of his activity, which is why Gaming Control agents were called in the first place.
Darren, though, appears to have grown tired of waiting on the sometimes rusty wheels of justice. Though both Phuas posted $1.5 million bail to be allowed out on their own recognizance, the men were detained by representatives of the immigration agency, ICE, and they are currently in an ICE facility.
Darren Phua’s Sentencing
Sentencing has not occurred for Darren Phua, nor has a date been set for when sentencing will happen. In most cases, sentencing takes place two to four months after a conviction. Since a plea bargain has been arranged, the sentencing phase may not take as long as it might otherwise have lasted.
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