Paul Phua Sportsbeting Case Update: Battle Continues Over Warrant Legitimacy
Defendants in the Las Vegas-based sports betting case centered on prominent Malaysian gambler (Wai Seng) Paul Phua have continued this week with increased battles over the legitimacy and grounds for granting search warrants which served as the basis of a July raid of three customer-occupied luxury villas at Caesars Palace.
The raids and subsequent arrests of Paul Phua, his son (Wai Kit) Darren Phua and several other prominent Asian gamblers have sent ripples through the online poker and gambling worlds. The Phuas, father and son both, were frequent participants in celebrated high-stakes poker games in Macau, which attracted some of the world’s wealthiest and famous poker players.
Whether or not the search tactics employed by federal and state investigators and Caesars security to obtain information on the villas’ occupants remains a central point of the legal battle, with federal agents admitting to — while defending the use of — a complicated ruse in which they intentionally switched off internet service to the guest villas occupied by the defendants and other members of their parties. The agents secretly taped the interior of the villas and used that information to obtain warrants to officially search the premises; though the FBI has defended the ruse, the case has drawn both international attention and the interest of constitutional scholars for its presumptive breach of established Fourth Amendment protections.
Among the latest in a flurry of defense activities seeking to have evidence thrown out is a filing by the attorneys for the Phuas. On Tuesday, high-powered attorneys Thomas C. Goldstein, David Z. Chesnoff and Richard A. Schonfeld filed over 90 new pages of documents in their combined efforts to suppress alleged evidence obtained during the search. Attorneys for the other defendants in the case are continuing along similar paths.
The latest filing made by the Phuas’ collective counsel begins as follows:
… [I]n submitting the warrant application to the Magistrate, the government misrepresented and omitted critical facts either recklessly or with the intent to mislead the Court. Among many other things, the government characterized as consensual searches an unprecedented covert operation that involved disrupting the DSL internet connections in multiple private hotel rooms for the purpose of inducing the residents to permit entry by agents masquerading as technicians.
But there is much more. The application falsely asserts that various Defendants were known members of organized crime, that Defendants are criminal associates of each other, that Defendants made suspicious requests for electronic equipment, and that Defendants engaged in suspicious financial transactions. …
The introductory statement continues by protesting the ongoing efforts of the prosecutors to link the occupants of two of the villas — 8881 and 8882, including the one where the Phuas stayed — to Villa 8888, which actually housed an equipment set-up akin to that alleged by investigators as they sought search warrants. Villas 8881 and 8882, it subsequently turned out, had internet set-ups much less advanced than that in Villa 8888, contrary to agents’ statements. The extent to which the FBI agents may have intentionally deceived the warrant-issuing judge by misstating the nature of their evidence and observations remains one of the hotly-disputed issues in the case.
The extensive filing by the Phuas’ attorneys includes six primary points of dispute, asserting that:
- The warrant application rests on false statements and baseless assertions regarding the occupants’ supposed criminal history;
- The warrant application contains significant false statements and material omissions designed to mislead the magistrate into falsely believing that the intrusions into Villas 8881 and 8882 were consensual;
- The warrant application purposefully misleads the magistrate into believing that the residents of Villas 8881 and 8882 were acting in concert with the residents of Villa 8888;
- The warrant application’s assertion that the occupants of Villas 8881 and 8882 requested the installation of substantial electronic equipment is false;
- The warrant application’s assertions regarding supposed financial transfers between the villas’ occupants are false;
- In the absence of the misrepresentations and omissions in the application, the search warrant would not have been issued.
As has been true with previous defense filings, the latest documents attempt to decrease the linkage between the Phuas (who rented Villa 8882), high-rolling associates Richard Yong and his son Wai Kin (who rented Villa 8881), and the meat of the alleged illegal operation and the activities of the other defendants, which took place in Villa 8888. Among the facts released subsequent to the filing of the initial complaint was that 19 different electronic keys had been issued to various guests and visitors of Villa 8888 during the time the villa was allegedly being used as a boiler-room gambling operation.
Meanwhile, the Phuas’ prominent attorneys have alleged that the government’s attorneys and investigators keep changing their story as the case develops, in some cases manufacturing new lies while discarding old ones. This passage from the latest filing is typical:
… Meanwhile, the Government inexcusably offers new lies to replace the old ones. And frequently, the Government attempts to use information that was not in the warrant affidavit — and indeed, was not even available at that time — in order to shore up its prior misrepresentations. Regrettably, but unsurprisingly in this remarkable case, it mischaracterizes a great deal of that evidence, too.
The government’s post-hoc attempts to rehabilitate the warrant application only highlight how flawed the original document is, and how committed the Government is to misleading the Court. …