Judge in Vegas to hear claims that FBI, Caesars Palace used ruse to get gambling case evidence
Defense attorneys will try to convince a federal judge in Nevada on Thursday to order Caesars Palace officials to release evidence they say will show the FBI used illegal tactics to arrest eight people last July in an international Internet gambling case.
Lawyers and prosecutors are due before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen in the case of Wei Seng Phua, a man who federal authorities say is part of a Chinese organized crime group called the 14k Triad. Phua's lawyers, Thomas Goldstein in Washington, D.C., and David Chesnoff in Las Vegas, deny their client has ties to organized crime.
They say the FBI improperly enlisted employees at the Las Vegas Strip resort for an illegal search of high-roller suites where Phua and others are accused of setting up an Internet hub beginning in June to take illegal bets on FIFA World Cup soccer games.
Lapel camera video obtained by The Associated Press shows how the FBI tricked its way inside a luxury villa by shutting off Internet access to the suite, then impersonating repair technicians to enter and collect evidence to obtain a search warrant.
Under U.S. law, a person generally must consent to give up constitutional protections against unreasonable search unless authorities obtain a warrant. Evidence collected improperly is not supposed to be used at trial.
Prosecutors deny the tactics used to get a search warrant in the Phua case were improper. U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden in Las Vegas has declined to comment about the specific allegations. He said the government would comment in court.
Phua, his son Darren Wai Kit Phua, and defendants Seng Chen Yong, Wai Kin Yong, Hui Tang, Yan Zhang, Yung Keung Fan and Herman Chun Sang Yeung were in three exclusive villas at Caesars on July 13.
Federal authorities say the eight people are from Malaysia, China and Hong Kong. Each has pleaded not guilty to charges of transmission of wagering information, operating an illegal gambling business and aiding and abetting.
If convicted, each could face up to seven years in federal prison on the unlawful transmission and illegal gambling business counts, and fines of up to $500,000.
Phua also faces charges of running an illegal sports gambling business in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau. He was arrested there June 18, then freed on bail. He flew a few days later to Las Vegas, where federal authorities have impounded his private jet pending resolution of the criminal case.
Poker professional Andrew Robl and 10-time World Series of Poker Champion Phil Ivey together posted $2.5 million to secure the release of Wei Seng Phua and Darren Wai Kit Phua.
The allegation that the FBI used a ruse to get inside the hotel rooms came to light last month, while questions also were being raised about tactics used by federal agents in a drug case involving a New York woman and a bomb-threat case in Seattle.
Officials say the Drug Enforcement Administration set up a fake Facebook account using photographs and other information it took from the cellphone of a New York woman arrested in a cocaine case in 2010 in hopes her friends and associates would reveal incriminating drug secrets.