Darren Phua

Darren Phua, who after spending nine months in Vegas fighting to have legal charges against him and his father Paul dismissed, has accepted a plea bargain, citing home sickness. (Image: hehendonmob.co.uk)

Darren Phua has changed his plea to guilty. Just as things seemed to be going right for Darren and his father, high stakes poker player Paul Phua, in their legal battle to have criminal charges dismissed against them for operating an illegal multi-million-dollar World Cup betting operation, Phua Junior has unexpectedly opted to accept a plea bargain.

His lawyer cited his homesickness for his native Malaysia as the reason for the change of heart.

The FBI broke up the operation at three high-roller villas at Caesars Palace in early July.

Prosecutors claim the Phuas, along with six others, had been running what the Gambling Control Board described as a high-tech “wire room,” where illegal World Cup bets were monitored by computers remotely linked to others overseas.

Investigators say the gambling ring processed $300 million in sports bets during their stay in Vegas.

Five Pled Guilty

Five members of the group, including poker player Richard Yong, pled guilty to misdemeanor charges and received six-figure fines and five years of probation, on condition they stay out of the United States during that period. It’s believed Phua Junior will now receive a similar sentence.

It remains to be seen whether Phua Senior will continue to fight the charges against him in light of his son’s capitulation. His defense team has always argued that the surveillance methods used by FBI investigators were an illegal, unconstitutional breach of the Phuas’ Fourth Amendment rights.

Agents posed as internet repairmen before turning off wireless access to the villas in order to gather video evidence and the defense team moved to have this evidence dismissed.

“Bulk of Evidence Should be Dismissed”

Judge Peggy Leen ruled last month that while the ruse was acceptable in itself, the bulk of evidence should be dismissed. She was highly critical of the sworn affidavit the agency used to gain a judge’s permission to search the villas, which she branded “fatally flawed,” and filled with “false and misleading statements.”

The FBI was also guilty of exaggerating the amount of evidence it had against Phua prior to the search, she said.

The prosecution itself has admitted that without this evidence it would have a hard time securing a conviction. While the villa rented by Paul Phua was one of three searched, the hub of the betting operation was actually a villa that was being rented by Hui Tang, another arrestee.

While the poker world knows Paul Phua as a high-stakes poker player who was a prominent figure in the fabled high-stakes games in Macau, an EPT finalist and a runner in the 2012 Big One for One Drop, the FBI claims he is a prominent member of the notorious 14K Triad organized crime group, an accusation he has continually denied.