Paul Phua Walks Free in the Ceasars Palace Illegal Sports Betting Case in Las Vegas
Paul Phua Wei-seng’s US gambling case collapsed on Monday after most of the evidence against the Malaysian businessman and high-roller was tossed out by a federal judge. US District Judge Andrew Gordon ruled that most of the FBI-obtained evidence in the case could not be used by federal prosecutors, because their use of subterfuge to gain access to his hotel suites violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Two different judges ruled that was the case in various decisions dating back to January 2015. Prosecutors argued to have the evidence reinstated, but the latest ruling last week by Judge Gordon ended those hopes. With the vast bulk of the evidence inadmissable, the prosecutors had no choice but to set Paul Phua free.
Las Vegas Arrests and Convictions
In July 2014, Paul Phua was arrested at Caesars Palace alongside 6 other Malaysian men, including Paul’s then 22 year old son, Darren Phua. Staff had noticed suspicious activity in three suites and reported it to management, who called the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Control Board agents partnered with the FBI to investigate the case, eventually coercing the hotel’s Internet service provider to shut down online access to those suites. When Phua and his men called for assistance, FBI agents in the guise of tech support entered the room. After seeing the operation, the FBI gained a search warrant and a raid alongside Control Board agents was conducted.
Eventually, all 6 of the other men who were arrested that day pleaded guilty. In five cases, those who made plea bargains were deported from the country, back to Malaysia. Darren Phua pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense and was sentenced to 5 years of unsupervised probation. Phua’s son reportedly wanted to plea guilty, because he was said to have grown homesick for Malaysia during his captivity in ICE facilities.
Paul Phua’s Restitution
Now that the government’s case against Paul Phua has ended, he will have the $2 million in bail, his passport, and his $48 million private jet returned to him. $1.5 million of the bail money was posted by American professional poker players, including Phil Ivey, who know Mr. Phua from the high-roller ring games played in the private rooms of Las Vegas Strip casinos.
Thomas Goldstein, who served as Phua’s lead attorney in the case, said his client’s “faith in the American justice system was completely vindicated.”
Unlike his alleged accomplices, Phua refused to take a plea bargain in the case, instead choosing to fight it out with the help of his high-priced Vegas-area lawyers. Court documents suggested that Paul Phua is worth an estimated $300 million to $400 million, so he had massive resources to draw upon.
Goldstein told reporters on Monday, “Paul Phua stayed in the United States to defeat these charges because he was innocent, and because the government’s misconduct made the case even more unjust.”
Controversy Back Home
The case received international attention in the gaming media, while it was a sensation back home in Malaysia. In December 2014, Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi wrote the Assistant Director of the FBI to vouch for Paul Phua’s character. Mr. Zahid’s letter caused a firestorm of controversy in the Malaysian Parliament.
In the letter, Zahid refuted claims that Paul Phua had ever been arrested in Malaysia or that he had ever been a member of the notorious 14K Triad, the fourth-largest Chinese crime syndicate. Triads are nationalistic crime rings which are the Chinese equivalent of the Italian-American mafia. Like the American mob, triads have an international reach.
Eventually, Zahid’s connections to Paul Phua were questioned in the Malaysian newspapers. When calls for his resignation grew amongst opposition parties, Zahid had to go before the parliament and swear a religious oath that he did not know Paul Phua and he had never taken money from him.
Paul Phua’s Career
In the absence of criminal ties, it is thought that Paul Phua made his money in one of two ways. One, he is a known junket operator in Macau. While Macau’s casinos reported $40 billion in profits in 2013, it is estimated that the junket operators made perhaps $200 billion per year in the peak years for Macau–though the upper limit of the revenues is unknown.
A second possible source of income is an online sportsbook which Phua was said to run, or perhaps to have operated at an earlier part of his career. Whatever the case, he began to appear in live poker tournaments roughly 5 years ago, where he made a name for himself as an asture player. He also played in the high-stakes cash games at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, where he became friends with some of the top players in the world. Phua also spent 3 years as the non-resident ambassador to Montenegro from the tiny Italian peninsula nation of San Marino. A couple of months ago, the government of Montenegro honored Paul Phua.
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