Martin Staszko

Report: Martin Staszko Target of Kidnapping Attempt in 2011

Poker players who hit it big and become quick millionaires often know that they need to be careful with their money, be wary with whom they associate. Fortunately, 2011 World Series of Poker (WSOP) runner-up Martin Staszko has heeded this rule at least once in the past three years. In one of the more shocking pieces of news in recent months, it has been revealed that Staszko was targeted by kidnappers shortly after his big score.

Czech poker website PokerArena.cz relayed the story earlier this week as it was reported by Czech newpaper Právo. As it goes, in early 2011, an organized crime gang, headed by a man named Michael Šváb, began kidnapping wealthy businessmen. They would lure them to a swanky location (or the promise of such a location) under the pretense that they would be meeting with someone of considerable means who was anxious to hand over a healthy amount of money. To encourage the meeting, some sort of touching tale would be spun about the mystery benefactor’s motivation. For example, in July 2011 a wealthy philanthropist was duped into a supposed trip to Valenica to meet with a man named Robert Kelner, who was said to be interested in donating a large sum of money to charity because of a tragedy his family had experienced. Kelner, though, was actually Michael Šváb. The philanthropist was kidnapped and remained captive for six days before finally paying about $2,000,000 in ransom.

Martin Staszko

Martin Staszko

In November of that same year, Martin Staszko won $5.4 million when he finished second to Pius Heinz in the 2011 WSOP Main Event. The accomplishment made him an instant celebrity in his home country of the Czech Republic; fans weren’t the only ones paying attention. Just a couple weeks after the WSOP, Šváb contacted Milan Sláma, president of the Czech Poker Association, apparently to help him get in touch with Staszko (this point isn’t exactly clear from the PokerArena article, but it seems like a logical assumption). The story this time was that Šváb, using the Kelner name again, wanted to give his father the really cool birthday present of a private session with his country’s new poker hero.

Šváb promised transportation via private jet and a sizable fee for Staszko’s time, but that all may have backfired, as Sláma smelled something fishy. He wasn’t thinking about a kidnapping, though. Rather, he was suspicious that Staszko was being set up to be cheated in a poker game. He (and Staszko, presumably) turned down the offer and the two went on with their lives, not knowing what was actually behind that invitation until the authorities arrested the gang members in April.

Unfortunately, it sounds like not all of the gang’s victims were even as lucky as the philanthropist mentioned earlier. Two people never returned from their kidnapping and the gang members are being charged with their murders.

Staszko got lucky, but this was not the first time that poker players have been targeted by criminals. There have been several incidents in recent memory:

• In December 2004, recently crowned WSOP champ Greg Raymer had cashed out $150,000 at the Bellagio and was heading back to his hotel room. As he opened the door, two men, one brandishing a gun, attacked him from the hallway and tried to push him into his room. Like a boss, Raymer fought them both off and forced them to flee. The two men escaped, but were tracked down and arrested a few months later.
• In 2006, “Amarillo Slim” Preston was driving home when he was cut off. A man got out of the other car and demanded money at gunpoint. Preston refused and slammed his car in reverse, only to be shot at three times. Two bullets hit Preston’s car, but Preston himself was unharmed
• A few months later, in early 2007, Preston arrived home one evening to find two armed men in his apartment. They tied him up and jammed a gun into his belly. Preston told the man, “Pull the trigger on that damn thing or put it down.” Fortunately, the trigger was not pulled, but the men escaped with cash, guns, and custom belt buckle of great sentimental value.
• Just before Christmas 2011, 2010 WSOP Main Event champ Jonathan Duhamel was bound and beaten in his home by two men. He was forced to open a safe and hand over CAD $40,000, €65,000, his Main Event bracelet, and a Rolex watch given to him by PokerStars to celebrate his victory. While certainly harmed, none of Duhamel’s injuries were overly serious. It was later discovered that the attack was planned by his ex-girlfriend.
• Just hours after finishing second in the 2012 Big One for One Drop at the WSOP and winning $10 million, Sam Trickett was attacked by six men while leaving a Las Vegas club with his girlfriend.
• Danish poker legend Theo Jørgensen was shot three times in his home in late 2012, again by intruders looking for money. Jørgensen was also fortunate, as the gunshots were in the leg and the injuries were not life threatening.

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