Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who arrested the alleged high-ranking member of the 14K Triad and high-stakes poker player Paul Phua at Cesar Palace Las Vegas in July 2014 "went too far," the US District Judge Andrew Gordon ruled on Friday.
According to Gordon, the FBI operation that led to the arrest of Phua, his 22-year-old son Wai Kit "Darren" Phua, Malaysian businessman and poker player Sen Chen "Richard" Yong, and five others, was carried out in violation of Phua's right as the federal agents did not have the search warrant they needed to enter the hotel room.
As reported on PokerNews, to arrest Phua and the others involved in the betting ring, the FBI cut off the Internet connection to his room to then send two undercover agents as repairmen. Once in the room, the two agents were able to gather evidence about the betting activities by filming everything through hidden cameras.
In the eyes of the judge, the operation was conducted in conflict with Phua's individual rights and, if condoned, could set a dangerous precedent that may allow the American government to create conditions for otherwise unauthorized warrantless searches.
"Permitting the government to create the need for the occupant to invite a third party into his or her home would effectively allow the government to conduct warrantless searches of the vast majority of residences and hotel rooms in America," Judge Gordon stated during an hearing on Friday. "The government need only disrupt the phone, cable, Internet, or some other 'non-essential' service, and reasonable people will opt to invite a third party onto their property to repair it, unwittingly allowing government agents into the most private space to view and record whatever and whomever they see."
Gordon's ruling on Phua's case is the second hit the FBI is forced to take since the arrest, as last February U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen raised serious concern about the operation and said it was "fatally flawed."
In a recommendation about the case, Leen explained that the search warrant affidavit used to bust the illegal gambling ring in Las Vegas seemed to lack probable cause. In her recommendation, Leen also stated that she found that sworn statements made by FBI agents to obtain the warrant were "false and misleading."
The ruling from Judge Gordon may be the turning point Phua and his attorney, David Chesnoff, have been waiting for since the arrest, as it obliges the FBI to discard the evidence that was gathered against the player. Back in October 2014, Chesnoff said he was sure about the illegitimacy of the operation, and he claimed that the FBI violated his client's Fourth Amendment rights in his arrest due to the raid being conducted under an unlawful search warrant.
Phua and his son are free on $2.5 million bail that was posted by Phil Ivey, Andrew Robl, and others in July.
Stay tuned on PokerNews for the latest on this case.