Another Guilty Plea in Kansas Underground Poker Case
The prominent underground poker game centered in Wichita, Kansas, that was raided by authorities in 2017 after years of ongoing investigation into multiple forms of illegal activity. Michael Zajkowski, 51, a former Wichita police officer, pled guilty this week to one count of concealing a felony in connection to the secret poker game which included several former police officers, high-ranking public officials and prominent businessmen from the Wichita area.
Zajkowski was one of at least four Wichita-area officers who participated in the underground game and who worked to out an undercover detective who wrangled an invite to the game in 2014. Zajkowski and two other (at that time active) officers recognized the new player and suspected he was an undercover investigator, but then their own police department connections to run the license-plate number on the visitor’s car, learning that it was indeed an unmarked police vehicle.
Zajkowski and two other officers, Bruce Mackey and Brock Wedman, were charged with obstruction, in this instance concealing the felony operation of the illegal game in which rake was charged. Wedman was also charged with lying to the FBI, while a fourth officer, former Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Michael Frederiksen, was also charged after secretly videotaping the suspected undercover officer in an attempt to further identify him.
The manager of the underground poker game, Daven Flax, and the owner of a closely-associated underground sports-betting operation, Danny Chapman, both pled guilty in early 2018 to charges in connection with the operation of the games.
Zajkowski appears to be the first of the four known officer-participants in the game to have reached a plea deal. All four men faced as much as five years of prison time plus a fine of up to $250,000 for their involvement in and concealment of the rake-charged games, though according to a press statement from the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas, the prosecution and defense have agreed to recommend a year’s probation for the now-ex-cop. Should plea deals be struck with the other former officers and underground-game participants, sentences similar to that expected for Zajkowski are the likely outcome.
According to USAO Kansas attorney Stephen McAllister, Zajkowski pled guilty after “looking the other way for years while co-defendants made a business of operating illegal private poker games.” Zajkowski pled guilty to one count of concealing a felony in order to resolve the charge against him.
“In his plea,” according to the USAO Kansas announcement, “he admitted he knew about illegal private poker games in Wichita and he did not report it to authorities. On Feb. 12, 2014, one of the co-defendants suspected an undercover Wichita police officer had come to a poker game posing as a gambler. At the co-defendant’s request, Zajkowski attempted to find out whether there was a police investigation and provided information to the co-defendant.”
Following the snafued undercover-game visit, authorities from multiple agencies conducted wiretaps on a large number of people believed to be connected to or participants in the undercover games and sports wagering. Among those the FBI later acknowledged investigating were Brandon and Rodney Steven, affluent brothers and Wichita-area businessmen who own and operate health clubs, car dealerships, and other businesses in the area. Brandon Steven is well-known in poker circles as an occasional participant in high-roller poker tourneys, and with recorded earnings of over $3 million, has been Kansas’s career leader in tourney winnings for many years. Neither of the Steven brothers was charged in connection with the case, and whether they participated in the games or not, no evidence ever emerged that they were part of the ownership or operation of the games. Their inclusion in the case’s early reports may also have had a political element, as Brandon Steven was part of an ownership group pushing for casino expansion in Kansas several years ago.