Travell Thomas Charged with Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud by Preet Bharara
Travell Thomas, a professional poker player from the World Series of Poker Circuit, was one of 15 people charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud this week. The group operated a bogus debt collection agency which collected over $31 million in fraudulent claims over a 4-year period, before the criminal conspiracy was stopped.
The 37-year old pro player faces up to 20 years in prison for his alleged role in the crime ring. The office of Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York, made the case known in a press release.
Operation Ran 4 Years and 9 Months
According to unsealed documents in the case, the fraudulent debt collection agency operated from January 2010 until November 2014. Travell Thomas is described as the co-founder, president, and CEO of the company. The documents seem to indicate Thomas was the ringleader.
In his press release, Preet Bharara said that the debt collection scheme was the largest of its type in history, or at least the largest one to be caught. The attorney’s statement read, “[It] is believed to be the largest fraudulent debt collection scheme ever to be prosectued.”
Preyed upon Disabled People
The attorney said Travell Thomas used every underhanded method possible to collect money from its victims. They used the name of an existing cash advance service, “Payday Loan Company”, to pretend to be legitimate bill collectors.
Though they had no connection to the PayDay Loan Company, Thomas and his crew claimed they were and leaned heavily on debtors. In doing so, they used an array of tricks to get the money they wanted. claimed at times to be a law office. They also claimed they had the power to issue arrest warrants. They even confiscated drivers licenses sometimes, or threatened to do so.
Asked to Desist by the Real Cash Advance Store
The documents show that thousands of Americans were preyed upon in the criminal scheme, including disabled people. In November 2012, the real PayDay Loan Company learned that Travell Thomas and his people were pretending to be bill collectors from their lending company.
At that time, executives from the payday loan service asked Thomas to stop pretending to be their employees. According to the documents, Travell Thomas refused.
Collected $750,000 for Himself
Documents show that $31 million was taken in all. Of that money, $750K was paid directly to Mr. Thomas, who used it to fund his gambling career. The record shows he put his ill-gotten gains to good use at the poker table.
From 2011 to 2015, Thomas had a successful career on the World Series of Poker Circuit, with three major cashes to his credit. On March 8, 2011, he won a World Series of Poker Circuit event at Caesars Atlantic City, beating a field of 155 poker players to win $30,445. In 2012, he won $25,000 for winning an event at the Borgata Spring Poker Open. In 2013, he placed 2nd in a 470 entrants in a no-limit hold’em contest at Caesars, Las Vegas. He even finished 22nd this year in an event at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open in Florida: the 2015 $5,250 NLHE Championships. He won $30,000.
2014 Staking Agreement Jonathan Dimmig
When Jonathan Dimmig won the $1.3 million at the 2014 Millionaire Maker Event at the World Series of Poker, Dimmig admitted that Travell Thomas was part of a staking agreement. The men shared a big hug, and in an interview later, Dimmig said, “Oh yeah, he had a little piece. It was five percent, so he’s happy with that.”
In a number of pictures at tournaments over the years, he appeared to be flexing his muscles or making obscene gestures. He appeared to be popular with the other players. After a Borgata Winter Open event, Travell Thomas appeared to have acquired a nickname: Travell the Terminator.
Seneca Niagara Crew
None of this would have been possible had Travell Thomas not pocketed three-quarters of a million dollars from his fake debt collection service. He appeared to be quite brazen about his business situation. The Borgata Spring Open tournament announced on its website in 2012, “Travell is the owner of 4 Collection Agencies–today he collected the $25,188 first place prize and the Borgata trophy. He’s also a former football wide receiver for the University of Buffalo.”
He also was quoted as invoking what was apparently a stable of poker players he belonged to. Upon Travell Thomas winning, he told the people in the room, “‘Seneca Niagara Crew Wins Again’, exclaimed an excited Travell soon after the victory in Borgata Poker Room.”
In an apparent response to the charges, Travell Thomas’s Twitter page said on November 21: “People really shouldn’t believe everything they read in the paper.”
Arrests in the Case
Travell Thomas was among those arrested in the case on Tuesday. Others who were arrested include Anthony Brzezowski, Anthony Caba, Michael Callandra, William Clark, Heather Gasta, Maurice Sessum, Columbus Simmons, Chares Starks, Jimmy Stokes, and Tacoby Thomas.
Four people already have pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Presumably, those people already have given testimony against those arrested on Tuesday, as part of their plea agreement. The four people who pleaded guilty were Mark Lavin, Jessica Mann, John Salatino, and Jennifer Sherk.
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