Two-time World Series of Poker Circuit gold ring champion Travell Thomas could be facing up to 40 years behind bars after pleading guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud charges.
The case was brought to light a little less than a year ago when Thomas, the owner of a debt collection company in Buffalo, New York, was charged along with 14 others in a $31 million fraudulent and coercive debt collection scheme from victims across the United States between 2010 and 2015.
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, the man responsible for the Black Friday indictments, unsealed the indictment. The office at the time released a press release which stated the following:
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 poker pro's lawyer, Robert A. Scalione, Esq. of Riordan & Scalione initially claimed in a statement to PokerNews in November 2015 his client was innocent of the charges:
"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."
However, once the case hit, Thomas broke down in tears and quickly changed his tune to plead guilty to the crimes he was charged with.
“I knew what I was doing was wrong and in violating the law. I did it of my own free will,” Thomas explained to Manhattan federal Judge Katherine Polk Failla.
The 38-year old Thomas also apologized for his actions, which included threatening victims with criminal charges if they didn’t agree to pay debts inflated by his company. According to the New York Post, he benefited approximately $750,000 from the criminal scheme which was used for his wedding reception, jewelry and cosmetic surgery for his wife and gambling.
The New York Post also suggests that Thomas will likely face less than the maximum of 40 years in federal prison.