Full Tilt Poker founder Raymond Bitar, accused of using online player funds to finance his company in what prosecutors called a Ponzi scheme, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to no prison time because he needs a heart transplant.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska today approved a plea agreement between Bitar, 41, and prosecutors, sentencing him to the seven days he served in jail last year, after saying an additional prison sentence would kill him. Bitar, who participated in a hearing in Manhattan federal court by video link from Los Angeles, near his home, pleaded guilty to two felonies that carry a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison.
Bitar, who is scheduled to enter a heart-transplant program May 6, wouldn’t be eligible if he were sentenced to prison, Preska said. He would be unlikely to survive a term in prison, she said.
“I don’t think any of us would trade places with him, no matter what,”Preska said, in giving him the sentence.
Bitar pleaded guilty to violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which regulates online gambling, and conspiring to commit bank fraud and wire fraud. In addition to time served, Preska ordered Bitar to forfeit $40 million dollars, his home and other properties.
In the plea deal, both sides agreed that federal sentencing guidelines, which aren’t binding, call for Bitar to serve 6 1/2 years to 8 years and a month in prison.
Bitar was one of 11 people charged by the government in April 2011 in connection with the online gambling sites Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker.
“Mr. Bitar is the most culpable, in the government’s view,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Arlo Devlin Brown told Preska. Prosecutors agreed to the non-prison sentence because of the “extraordinary medical circumstances” of Bitar’s case, he said.
Prosecutors from the office Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara charged Bitar along with Nelson Burtnick, head of Full Tilt’s payment processing department. They claimed Full Tilt solicited new online gamblers after the business was outlawed in the U.S.
Bitar also lied to investors about the security of their money, claiming falsely that it was kept in separate accounts, the government said.
Bitar was charged with gambling, bank fraud and money laundering in connection with his operation of Ireland-based Full Tilt. He was arrested July 2 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on his return to the U.S.
John F. Baughman, his lawyer, told Preska last week that he and prosecutors were discussing a deal that would allow Bitar to avoid prison and obtain a heart transplant.
Bitar was arrested the same day he was named in a revised indictment alleging he and another man used funds from online players to finance Full Tilt’s operations and pay its owners.
“Good luck to you, sir, and good luck to your family,” Preska told Bitar at the end of the hearing.
The case is U.S. v. Bitar, 10-cr-00336, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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