Christian Lusardi Charged in Borgata Counterfeit-chip Scheme
Nearly a year and a half after allegedly concocting a scheme wherein his introduction of counterfeit chips ultimately caused the cancellation of a large 2014 Borgata Winter Poker Open event, North Carolina resident Christian Lusardi has been charged in federal court in connection with the cancelled event.
Lusardi was initially charged in a state court in connection with the Borgata affair, shortly after his alleged involvement with the cheating scheme became known, but those state-level charges were later dismissed with no formal declaration as to why. However, it now appears that federal-level charges were part of prosecutors’ collective game plane all along.
Lusardi, according to a press release issued by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, was indicted by a federal grand jury this week on three separate counts related to the scheme, involving chips allegedly purchased via a Chinese manufacturer. Lusardi, now 43, of Fayetteville, N.C., was charged with second-degree trademark counterfeiting, second-degree attempted theft by deception and third-degree criminal mischief.
One of the reasons for the delay in bringing charges against Lusardi was likely to await the final resolution of a separate case against Lusardi involving the sale of counterfeit goods. In March, Lusardi was sentenced in federal court to five years in prison for his long-running sales and manufacture of bootleg DVDs, an operation authorities allege ran from at least 2010 to 2012. Authorities raided Lusardi’s North Carolina residence in 2014, having had him under surveillance for some time, and uncovered some 37,500 bootleg DVDs, plus the equipment to make and package them.
Whatever possessed Lusardi to allegedly attempt the counterfeit-chip scheme at the Borgata may never be fully known. However, it was discovered deep into the January 2014 tourney that large numbers of bogus chips had been introduced, a total of 160 “$5,000” (not real money, but tournament value) chips. Reviews of surveillance footage quickly led to Lusardi, who led one of the tourney’s Day 1 flights, pocketing an extra leader’s bonus in the process.
Lusardi likely knew the jig was up well before the tourney itself was halted. The Borgata received several complaints from players about chips that seemed non-standard, and the kicker came when another Atlantic City casino, Harrah’s Casino Hotel, discovered that a guest (later determined to be Lusardi) had attempted to flush large numbers of the fake chips down a toilet in his Harrah’s AC guest room. An additional 494 of the fake 5K chips were recovered from the clogged plumbing at Harrah’s, having caused an estimated $10,000 in damage. The plumbers also found nine (9) mustard-colored “$25,000” tournament chips from the Borgata, that were also found to be fakes. Lusardi seemingly never tried to introduce those into action.
The Borgata also found 22 more of the $5,000 counterfeit chips themselves, flushed down a toilet in a public restroom. In total, according to the DOJ presser, some $3,605,000 worth of tourney-value chips were traced to Lusardi, with roughly $800,000 worth actually introduced into the soon-to-be-cancelled event.
That cancellation caused its own separate set of problems, with the final 27 players — not including Lusardi, who had busted just prior to the event being halted — eventually bearing the brunt of the cancellation. A large portion of the prize fund was instead redirected toward players who -may- have played against Lusardi early in the event, even though the Borgata clearly made no detailed effort to determine exactly who played against him. As a result, hundreds of players received refunds without having been in contact with Lusardi’s bogus chips, refunded with prize-pool money that came from 27 finalists who never got to complete their run.
Several of those finalists filed a lawsuit against the Borgata, though that case was dismissed by a New Jersey court.
All the remained was the legal resolution of the Borgata case, a process which is now moving forward again.
Said New Jersey Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman “Lusardi’s alleged scheme to play high-stakes poker with counterfeit chips played out like a Hollywood movie plot, in which the leak that exposed him came not from a human source but from a sewer pipe. As theatrical as this was, we cannot lose sight of the serious nature of this financial crime. By allegedly betting with phony chips, Lusardi cheated other players and cost the Borgata hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tournament revenues.”
Added Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice, “The Division of Criminal Justice works closely with the New Jersey State Police and the Division of Gaming Enforcement to keep criminal elements out of Atlantic City’s casinos and aggressively investigate and prosecute any crimes that are uncovered. While our casino prosecution unit files well over 100 cases every year, this case certainly stands out as one of the most colorful we have seen in recent memory.”
Lusardi faces the possibility of considerable, extra jail time for his Borgata counterfeit-chip caper, if indeed he was responsible for it. Per the New Jersey AG statement, second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
A trial date for Lusardi has not yet been set.