Full Tilt Poker CEO Ray Bitar, 40, was arrested on Monday from a plane that landed at the JFK airport in New York. The U.S. government unveiled new criminal charges against him related to an alleged Ponzi scheme. The Justice Department has been conducting a 15-month-long investigation into three one-time leading online poker companies across the U.S. Bitar pleaded not guilty in a hearing in Manhattan federal court on Monday and will be able to go out on bail after posting a $2.5 million bond.
The U.S. government unsealed criminal indictments against Bitar. Bitar is from Los Angeles, but was residing in Ireland. Ten others were charged in April 2011 for money laundering, bank fraud, and illegal gambling. Six of the group members pleaded guilty to some charges, while 5 of them including Bitar remained outside of the U.S. and have not yet entered pleas.
One of the persons is a bank executive and has been sentenced to 3 months in prison. Bitar remained in Ireland to try and negotiate a possible resolution for his company and decided to return in order to face charges because his part in those efforts are now complete. Full Tilt Poker is expected to finalize a deal with PokerStars. PokerStars will gain Full Tilt Poker’s assets soon according to sources with The Wall Street Journal.
The government added an allegation that Bitar and an employee committed wire fraud by misrepresenting potential customers that their funds would be safe in order to convince them to transfer money over to the company. Full Tilt also used a Ponzi scheme to make the owners of Full Tilt rich.
The scheme was mentioned by the government as part of a civil complaint that was opened last year. The complaint is that Full Tilt failed to pay back poker players credited with $350 million in their accounts.
“I know that a lot of people are very angry at me,” said Bitar. “I understand why. Full Tilt should never have gotten into a position where it could not repay player funds.”
Full Tilt was started by Ray Bitar and successful poker player Chris Ferguson about 10 years ago. Full Tilt moved to Ireland as the U.S. government started to become more strict on online gambling companies.
“For the last 15 months, I have worked hard on possible solutions to get the players repaid,” said in a statement yesterday. “Returning today is part of that process. I believe we are near the end of a very long road, and I will continue to do whatever is required to get the players repaid, and I hope that it will happen soon.”