Everyone who played at Full Tilt Poker had only one concern regarding Wednesday's motion by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney to amend its civil complaint to include Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson and Rafe Furst and call the company a massive Ponzi scheme — will this help us get our money back?
At this point, there is no definitive answer, but there is reason for optimism.
In the announcement, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that Full Tilt "cheated and abused its own players to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. ... Full Tilt insiders lined their pockets with funds picked from the pockets of their most loyal customers while blithely lying to both players and the public alike about the safety and security of the money deposited with the company."
The amended complaint also asserted that, around the time of Black Friday, Full Tilt owed $150 million to U.S. players but had only approximately $60 million in its bank accounts.
So the Justice Department recognizes that the U.S. citizens are owed money from Full Tilt. On Black Friday, the DOJ seized bank accounts related to Full Tilt. The total amount of these accounts is unknown. Perhaps it is this $60 million figure they are quoting, which would explain where they got that total. With Wednesday's amendment, the DOJ is also looking to seize personal bank accounts of Lederer, Ferguson and CEO Raymond Bitar. This could be a way to get money back directly from the owners.
Combined, the money held by the DOJ will at least be a significant chunk of the money owed to the players. And it is money that belongs to the players. Protecting U.S. citizens against fraudulent foreign companies is a responsibility of the Justice Department. The DOJ statement presents the players as victims.
The Poker Players Alliance believes this means those who had money on FTP should be considered federal crime victims.
"If the allegations are true, it means Full Tilt committed fraud and deceit of players," PPA executive director John Pappas said. "Therefore, I think the DOJ should set up some sort of victims fund. I'm not sure if the DOJ would view that people playing poker were victims, but I think that is something that should be pressed."
This explanation on the Southern District of New York website notes that federal crime victims have the right to full and timely restitution as provided by law. The PPA suggests that people unable to withdraw their money from Full Tilt contact Wendy Olsen Clancy, the DOJ's victim coordinator, and ask to be afforded the rights of a crime victim and seek restitution of lost funds. Her email and phone number are in the link shown above.
Pappas said the PPA is attempting to set up a meeting with the DOJ and is working with lawmakers to include language requiring seized assets be used to repay players in any future poker legislation.
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