According to a press release issue by the United States Attorney's Office Southern District of New York, fifteen defendants, including well-known poker pro Travell Thomas, 37, have been charged in a $31 million fraudulent and coercive debt collection scheme.
In the indictment, which was unsealed by United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, the man responsible for the Black Friday indictments, Thomas is named as the co-owner, president, and chief executive officer of a debt collection company that took in more than $31 million from thousands of victims across the United States.
"As alleged, the defendants tried to trick and coerce victims into making payments to the Company by making false threats and telling a host of lies, including that the Company was a law office and that warrants would be issued for the victims’ arrests if they failed to repay debts," the press release states.
On Tuesday, November 24, PokerNews received the following statement from Thomas' lawyer, Robert A. Scalione, Esq. or Riordan & Scalione:
Travell Thomas is innocent of the charges pending against him. At no time did he engage in any criminal or fraudulent activity. At no time did he participate in any scheme to collect money that was not actually owed. From 2010 through 2015, Mr. Thomas and his partners ran a legitimate collection agency that employed several hundred people. If one or more of those employees engaged in unlawful activity while attempting to collect a debt, it was done so without Mr. Thomas’s knowledge or consent. To be clear, these were legitimate debts purchased by the business and subsequently collected from the individuals who owed the money. If $31 million was collected, it was because $31 million was owed. There was no conspiracy or scheme to defraud anybody.
The indictment alleges that between 2010 and February 2015, the defendants tricked thousands of victims into paying millions by stating that they were affiliated with local government and law enforcement agencies. While the law alleges approximately $31 million was collected, it states that Thomas was paid approximately $750,000 in cash that was used to pay for his "gambling expenses, tickets for professional sports games, [his] wedding reception, jewelry, and cosmetic surgery for his wife, among other expense."
Thomas has $510,885 in live tournament earnings including two World Series of Poker Circuit gold rings. The first came in 2011 when he took down the WSOP Circuit Caesars Atlantic City Event #6: $830 No-Limit Hold'em for $30,445 – his largest career score – and the other in 2013 when he won the WSOP Circuit Caesars Palace Event #1: $365 No-Limit Hold'em for $30,371.
"As alleged, the defendants engaged in what is believed to be the largest fraudulent debt collection scheme ever to be prosecuted, falsely threatening arrest and prosecution of countless Americans, including those who suffered from disabilities," said Bharara. "The defendants charged today allegedly took ruthless advantage of the desperate situation in which their victims found themselves, using threats and lies to coerce payment and even trying to collect more money than the victims ever owed. Thanks to the tireless work of the criminal investigators in our office, those involved in this massive debt collection scheme will no longer be able to prey on vulnerable Americans burdened by debt."
For more information, check out the full press release here.