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PPA Linked to Full Tilt / PokerStars SunFirst Bank Lobbying Effort, Part 5: Timeline and Questions

sunfirstbank-logoHere’s a partial timeline of events related to the rise and fall of the Elite Debit online-poker processing operation that was run through the SunFirst Bank of St. George, Utah, from late 2009 to late 2010:

2009: Collapse of Intabill online processing channel leads PokerStars to pursue other business leads.  A chain reaction of related events leads PokerStars to Chad Elie, and to his marketing mentor, Jeremy Johnson, who claims to have access to a bank that is able to meet PokerStars’ US-facing needs.

November, 2009: Officials for the St. George, Utah SunFirst Bank and founders of a new processing operation (later named Elite Debit) agree to general terms on the creation of a business to process transactions between US-facing online poker sites and their American customers.

Late November, 2009: PokerStars begins processing its first transactions through SunFirst.

March, 2010: Full Tilt joins in, and begins to process US-player transactions through SunFirst.  Both Tilt and Stars also “invest” in SunFirst as a means to strengthen their ongoing processing relationship.

March, 2010: Attorneys representing Full Tilt (and possibly PokerStars), seeking avenues to fortify the legal footing of the SunFirst-based processing, discover that Elite Debit’s Jeremy Johnson and the PPA’s executive director, John Pappas, both have previous (but separate) ties to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.  A plan is devised where multiple legal opinions promoting the validity of the SunFirst operation are drafted by attorneys in Full Tilt’s and PokerStars’ employ, with Pappas and Johnson then separately lobbying the Utah AG’s office on SunFirst’s behalf.

April, 2010: The PPA’s Pappas meets with Utah AG Shurtleff to lobby on behalf of the online-poker processing being run through SunFirst in hopes of procuring a formal legal opinion backing SunFirst.  The lobbying will prove to be unsuccessful.

April, July, 2010: Shurtleff’s Deputy AG, John Swallow, expresses favorable thoughts regarding the SunFirst poker processing in two different e-mails to Johnson.  Nonetheless, the lobbying by both Johnson and Pappas proves unsuccessful in securing a formal legal opinion from the Utah Attorney General’s office.

November, 2010: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) reaches a settlement with SunFirst Bank under which all online-poker processing is ordered to stop immediately.  The shutdown causes an immense, $80 million backlog of uncleared deposits at Full Tilt, which the site credits to players’ account.  The massive float causes Full Tilt’s collapse after it becomes known following “Black Friday”.

November, 2010: According to allegations made by convicted “Black Friday” payment processor Chad Elie, Jeremy Johnson absconds with tens of millions in Elite Debit funds actually belonging to PokerStars and Full Tilt.

December, 2010: Jeremy Johnson is separately charged by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in connection with $275 million of alleged fraudulent credit-card charges funneled through Johnson’s powerful Utah-based iWorks marketing empire.

April, 2011: The Department of Justice issues its “Black Friday” criminal indictments against 11 individuals connected to online poker, including four executives of Full Tilt and PokerStars, plus payment processor Chad Elie and SunFirst Bank vice president John Campos.  Separate civil actions are eventually filed against three other Full Tilt board members and the three largest US-facing online poker sites, including Full Tilt and PokerStars.  Jeremy Johnson is never charged in connection with the Black Friday crackdown.

April, 2011: Full Tilt, PokerStars and a third company, Absolute Poker, cease US-facing online poker operations.  PokerStars continues its prominent international presence, while Full Tilt remains in business for only a short while before its remaining international licenses are suspended by European regulators, and the site ceases operations.  Absolute Poker (which includes UltimateBet /, soon disappears entirely.

June, 2011: Jeremy Johnson is arrested at Phoenix International Airport by IRS agents, in connection with the ongoing FTC case.  Johnson was en route to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and his luggage contained a shoebox holding $26,400. Johnson was separately accused by Elie of secreting tens of millions in currency and precious metals in remote mountain hideaways and lakes throughout the Southwest.

. . . .

In connection with this series, this author published a brief series of five difficult, probing questions designed to further ascertain the lobbying relationships that existed on behalf of the SunFirst Bank payment processing operation, as well as to determine the full extent of corporate donations made to the PPA, a non-profit organization.  The questions, posted in a thread at the forums, were addressed to PPA Executive Director John Pappas, and were also e-mailed separately to Pappas.

Despite previous promises of a “no holds barred” interview with this author, Pappas declined to answer the questions, or even acknowledge their receipt, probably in the wake of the Salt Lake Tribune feature which first publicized the PPA/Utah lobbying link.  This was despite a comment by PPA board member Rich Muny as follows, after the questions were posted: “I definitely encourage you to email these and any other questions you have to John Pappas. Per his offer to you, I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to oblige.”

Those questions are reproduced here:

1) Where can one find the annual financial filings for the Poker Players Alliance, a nonprofit organization, for the years 2009-2012? A link to this information does not seem to be present on the PPA website.

2) How much money did the PPA receive from corporate contributors PokerStars and Full Tilt, on a year-by-year basis? Please itemize: “Full Tilt’s contributions for the calendar year 2010 = $$$$” and so on. It’s okay to lump contributions to the PPA, to PokerPac, and to third-party organizations such as D’Amato’s firm together as a single total. I’m more interested in how much Stars and Tilt spent in $$$ that went through the PPA.

3) When did the PPA’s John Pappas first meet SunFirst Bank payment processor Jeremy Johnson? What was the nature of that meeting?

4) When did the PPA’s John Pappas first have contact with Jeremy Johnson, in the form of e-mails, phone calls, or through another medium? What was the nature of that contact, and for what purpose?

5) When did the PPA’s John Pappas first have contact with Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, the former and present Utah Attorneys General? Was it due to Pappas’s prior work with Dittus Communications (and if so, on behalf of what lobbying cause), or was it through Pappas’s work as a staffer for Arizona Congressman John Shadegg?


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4




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