Paul Phua, the Malaysian high-stakes poker player and businessman accused of masterminding a million-dollar World Cup betting operation in Las Vegas last summer, is due to stand trial on June 1.
The prosecution’s case appeared to have been eviscerated when a federal judge threw the bulk of evidence against him out of court last month, but it emerged this week that prosecutors have added a conspiracy charge to existing felony counts in the hope of securing a conviction.
Last month, US District Judge Andrew Gordon ruled that much of the evidence gathered by the FBI should be tossed out, because it violated Phua’s Fourth Amendment rights.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from “unreasonable searches” and demands that search warrants can only be issued with probable cause.
In early July 2014, staff at Caesars Palace became suspicious of a group who had rented out three luxury villas and that had insisted the casino install an unusual amount of technical equipment, enough to support eight digital subscriber lines on top of the normal WiFi access.
In one villa, employees observed computer monitors that were hooked up to what looked like a sportsbook, and next to the computer stations were reportedly three large screen televisions, tuned into World Cup soccer games.
Tipped off by Caesars, FBI investigators had the casino shut down Internet access to the villas and then posed as technical repairmen in order to gain access and gather evidence.
This potentially damning evidence,however, has been barred from use in the forthcoming trial.
“Permitting the government to create the need for the occupant to invite a third party into his or her home would effectively allow the government to conduct warrantless searches of the vast majority of residences and hotel rooms in America,” noted Gordon in his decision.
He also upheld the opinion of a prior federal magistrate judge’s that the sworn affidavit the FBI used to gain permission to search the villas was “fatally flawed,” filled with “false and misleading statements,” and guilty of exaggerating the amount of evidence the FBI had against Phua.
However, evidence obtained from the other two villas, neither of which was being used as a technical hub for the operation, is still admissible, and the addition of the conspiracy charge means that prosecutors must now simply prove that Phua was conspiring with the five other people arrested with notable poker pro last summer.
These five, who include Paul Phua’s son Darren, pled guilty to misdemeanor charges, and received fines and five years of probation, with the proviso that they refrain from returning to the US during that period.