Darren Phua to Plead Guilty, Paul Phua Plans for Solo Trial
The number of defendants awaiting trial in the illicit sports betting case centered on a group of wealthy Asian gamblers and junket operators has shrunk to one following the announcement of a plea deal between US federal prosecutors and “Darren” Wei Kit Phua, one of two remaining defendants in the case.
Phua, now 23, is the son of the final defendant in the case, “Paul” Wei Seng Phua, who US authorities allege was the real head of a major boiler-room online sports betting operation being run out of private villas last summer at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The senior Phua, one of the Asian gambling world’s most prominent junketeers, continues on course to a scheduled trial date in late April, barring a separate plea deal in the coming weeks.
Local Las Vegas news outlets reported on Friday that Darren Phua had agreed to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor charge connected to the transmission of illegal gambling information. The official plea agreement had yet to filed in electronic dockets as of Monday morning. However, according to a Bloomberg Business report, the junior Phua has agreed to a forfeiture of $125,000 and an additional fine of $100,000 to resolve the case.
According to a story published in the Las Vegas Journal-Review on Friday, Darren Phua cited homesickness for his native Malaysia as a factor in his willingness to settle the case. Prosecutors’ hopes for a victory on the original, more severe charges against Darren Phua took a hit last month when US Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen ruled that some of the evidence against both son Darren and father Paul was illegally obtained by prosecutors, and would not be allowed in the case.
Nonetheless, the junior Phua chose to the financial settlement to resolve the legal charges. Phua was “ready to go home,” his attorney, Richard Schonfeld, said in a brief statement.
The cases brought by prosecutors against Darren and Paul Phua were always the most tenuous of those filed against the eight original defendants in the case, five of whom have previously pled guilty and paid hefty fines. (Charges against a sixth defendant were dismissed.) However, contrary to some erroneous poker-media reports filed over the weekend, the single remaining charge against Darren Phua — of the transmission of illegal wagering information — was supported by the limited evidence.
According to court documents originally filed in the case, messages from Darren Phua’s seized cel phone included one in which he agreed to place a significant online bet (on one of the sites alleged to be part of the boiler-room sports betting operation) on behalf of an unnamed Las Vegas resident. That represented a presumptive violation of Nevada gaming laws, and was likely the basis for the single remaining count in the case, for which the junior Phua agreed to plead guilty.
The case against alleged kingping Paul Phua, Darren’s father, continues a troubled path through a battleground of defense and prosecution motions and objections over the admission and exclusion of various forms of evidence and background information. Prosecutors admittedly have little direct proof in the case against the senior Phua, who occupied (along with his son) one of the three private Caesars Palace guest villas targeted in a July 2014 raid.
However, the villa occupied by the Phuas subsequently was shown to not be part of the boiler-room operation. Nonetheless, Paul Phua remains a high-profile target of the US prosecution, with hefty financial motivations remaining in place for either a guilty verdict or plea deal. The senior Phua’s private jet, variously valued in news reports at between $26 and $48 million, remains under US seizure order and is subject to forfeiture if the US prevails in its case.