The Reemergence of Daniel Tzvetkoff (and the ‘Reverse Bilzerian’ Stash?)
A couple of days back, Australia’s Gold Coast Bulletin published a feature story about one of the local Queensland region’s most notorious news figures of recent years — Daniel Tzvetkoff, the wunderkind behind the Intabill online-payment processing firm that failed under allegations of the embezzlement of tens of millions of dollars of funds belonging to major US-facing online poker firms such as Full Tilt and PokerStars.
Intabill’s precipitous collapse in late 2008 and early 2009 turned out to be a key link in the chain of events that led to “Black Friday,” the day in April of 2011 when the largest offshore companies serving US-based poker players were indicted on various illegal gambling, money laundering, and banking-violations charges. Tzevtkoff himself proved to be at the heart of the case, having turned states’ evidence and assisting the US Department of Justice after his own arrest in Nevada on similar charges in 2010.
Black Friday would have happened anyway; Tzevtkoff was just one of several rotating online-payment processing middlemen that helped offshore sites service the US, and the DOJ spent years investigating and unraveling a whole series of similar processors. Yet Tzvetkoff and his Intabill firm became a focus of the poker world, due to Tzevtkoff’s own lavish lifestyle and the attention foisted upon Intabill’s collapse, which came in mid-2009 when Full Tilt sued Tzvetkoff and his company for $52 million in allegedly misappropriated funds.
A good portion of the the story of Tzevtkoff and Intabill was told in British writer James Leighton’s 2013 book, Alligator Blood. Leighton’s somewhat romanticized tale of Intabill’s rise and fall includes a goodly dose of first-person accounts from Tzvetkoff himself.
One of the major questions left largely unanswered by Leighton’s book, however, was what exactly happened to all that Intabill money. Tzevtkoff lived a very public, exceeding lavish lifestyle during his couple of years on top of the world — buying one of the Gold Coast’s most expensive mansions. Tzevtkoff also treated himself to plenty of fast cars, constant parties, and other perks of the jet-setting high life.
However, there was always the general belief among industry watchers that Tzevtkoff must have squirreled away many millions of dollars in the face of his company’s collapse. One anecdote from the final pages of Alligator Blood find Tzvetkoff and his wife recharging at a private retreat in Bali, following his release from US detention. That Bali trip would have cost tens of thousands of dollars by itself, which shouldn’t have been that readily affordable for someone who was supposed to have paid a huge settlement representing all of the illicit profits of his operation.
This latest Gold Coast feature offers more hints that Tzvetkoff managed to hide several million dollars, just as USAO assistant DA Arlo Devlin-Brown (from the office of Preet Bharara) argued in successfully having Tzvetkoff’s bail revoked. That led to a short prison stint for Tzvetkoff before he turned cooperating witness and was relocated to New York City to be able to work more closely with Bharara’s office.
In another excerpt from Alligator Blood, the recently arrested Tzevtkoff was shocked and pleased when his father, Kim Tzvetkoff, showed up in a US court to vouchsafe his Australian home as part of his son Daniel’s proposed bail. They’d had a falling-out some time earlier over an episode of Daniel’s playboy antics, but the two reunited at that point.
But here’s the thing: To the best of anyone’s public knowledge, Daniel Tzvetkoff’s father was not an originally rich man. Daniel himself worked in a pizza shop before conceiving the technological package that eventually turned into his Intabill business. Even assuming that Daniel gave his father a house, it seems as though Daniel Tzvetkoff’s known assets should have been seized or frozen once his big-time troubles with the USDOJ began.
Fast forward to the recent Gold Coast feature, and this passage:
“Tzvetkoff’s family have all moved to the Coast, with his parents buying four properties worth $1.75 million in the past 18 months.”
Paid for with what, pray tell, the family Pixie-Stik collection? As with a handful of other anecdotes told by Tzevtkoff to Leighton, the story about Daniel and his father having been totally separate for some time may not be quite as true as it was told.
It’s far more likely that the supposed split was part of a complex cover story designed to shield his dad from investigators’ ongoing interest in Daniel Tzevtkoff’s possibly-hidden fortune. It’s just another example of a truism about wealth: Many of the stories that rich people’s relatives tell to explain how they acquired their own fortunes just don’t pass the smell test. For example, the father of well-known poker players Dan and Adam Bilzerian, Paul Bilzerian, allegedly committed blatant securities and investment violations, went to prison on related charges, and all of a sudden both of his sons spend their lives splashing around with nine-digit fortunes derived from God knows where. Dan Bilzerian claims he won his fortune gambling.
It’s possible, just like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But it doesn’t mean it’s the truth. Exactly how Daniel Tzvetkoff’s father became a budding real-estate tycoon is another one of those tales. Sure, it could have happened just the way the Intabill collapse was told… but that’s the sucker bet.