Defendant pleads not guilty in US online poker case

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Illinois man pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges he helped three popular online poker websites trick banks into illegally processing payments from U.S. customers in $3 billion scheme.

Bradley Franzen entered his plea to a nine-count indictment, which accused him of running illegal gambling businesses and conspiring to commit bank fraud and money laundering, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas in Manhattan federal court.

Prosecutors said Franzen was a "payment processor" who, with several accomplices, created fake companies and websites that purported to sell such items as golf balls and jewelry to disguise payments and lied to banks about the transactions.

Separately, co-defendant John Campos, a vice chairman at SunFirst Bank in St. George, Utah, was directed by a U.S. magistrate judge in that city to appear at a later date in the Manhattan court, a clerk for the Utah court said.

Prosecutors say Campos, 57, agreed to process gambling transactions in return for letting co-defendant Chad Elie and an associate invest $10 million in SunFirst, giving them a more than 30 percent stake in the privately-held bank.

Elie also faces a nine-count indictment and is expected to appear Tuesday in the Manhattan court. Campos faces six criminal charges and has not entered a plea.

The defendants are among 11 people charged on Friday, when U.S. authorities seized the Internet domain names for Absolute Poker, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars.

These seizures effectively shut down their online gambling businesses, which are based outside the United States.

Eight other defendants, including the websites' founders, remain at large outside the country.

The case may test whether a 2006 U.S. federal law, which prohibits Internet gambling businesses from accepting payments from the United States, can be applied to entities based in other countries.

Dressed in a blue plaid shirt and tan pants, Franzen said "not guilty, your honor" when asked on Monday for his plea.

Bail was set at $200,000, secured by equity on the home of Franzen's parents.

"That seems reasonable under the circumstances," Maas said.

Sam Schmidt, a lawyer for Franzen, had no immediate comment after the hearing.

Neal Kaplan, a lawyer for Campos, did not immediately return requests for comment.

The case is U.S. v. Franzen, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-mj-00706.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; editing by Andre Grenon)