Posts Tagged ‘Prison’

WSOP Circuit Champion Sentenced to Prison for Fraud

 WSOP Circuit Champion Sentenced to Prison for Fraud

Instead of facing a trial that could have sent him to prison for 20 years, a champion of the World Series of Poker Circuit and smaller tours plea bargained his way down to only an eight-year sentence after pleading guilty.

Poker player Travell Thomas stood in the courtroom of U. S. District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla on Thursday and received his punishment after pleading guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud charges in November 2016. According to U. S. News and World Report, Thomas tearfully stood in front of the judge and spoke about how his “gambling was out of control” as he operated the $ 31 million debt scam. “I would spend days at the casinos,” the site reports him as saying, “I wouldn’t even change my clothes.” He also said that federal authorities “saved his life” when they arrested him because he couldn’t gamble anymore.

The story, as well as Thomas’ clean record, had an impact on the sentence, but Judge Failla stated that Thomas “preyed on financially distressed people.” “A lot of the money that was taken went to him and his enjoyment,” Failla stated in court as she handed down the sentence. Assistant U. S. Attorney Edward Imperatore added in more evidence, citing greed as the factor that saw the profits from the business go to benefit Thomas, including season tickets to the Buffalo Bills, trips, jewelry, cars, gambling and other casino entertainment.

Failla did go easy on Thomas with the sentence, but stated that she needed to “send a message” to others who might want to try the same tactics. He could have faced up to 16 years because of the plea bargain with prosecutors, a slight reduction from the 20 he could have faced if he had gone to trial. Instead of the maximum, Failla sentenced Thomas to eight years and four months.

Where Thomas and his company seemed to have gone astray was in the methods they employed to get people to pay off their debts. Thomas taught his employees to threaten them with lawsuits or other crimes that the customers had allegedly committed, even lying to the customers by saying they would be federally prosecuted and that “their conversations” on the phone could be used as evidence. Additionally, according to court documents presented during Thomas’ arrest, he told employees of the company not to show their scripts to anyone outside the office as they “weren’t legal” to use.

It is a rather sorry end for one of the more colorful characters who ever came to the poker tables. He first struck on the tournament poker stage in 2006 in a $ 100 tournament at the Seneca World Poker Classic, but by 2009 he was playing on larger stages. At the 2009 United States Poker Championship, he made two $ 500 tournament final tables. With that success in his pocket, he moved up once again.

In December 2009, Thomas earned his first cash on the WSOPC in Atlantic City, which drove him into more events in 2010. Thomas won a Heartland Poker Tour preliminary event in May 2010 and, in August, won a $ 500 preliminary tournament during the Empire State Hold’em Championships. 2010 was also significant because it was, according to law enforcement, about the same time that Thomas’ company began employing their questionable tactics and Thomas began taking chunks of money that eventually totaled $ 1.5 million out for his personal usage.

In 2011, Thomas would win his first WSOPC ring in taking down an event in Atlantic City and captured his second in 2013 in Las Vegas. Those two victories surprisingly were the largest wins on his resume despite being only five-figure cashes. All totaled, Thomas cashed 87 times in his tournament poker career, earning slightly more than $ 510,000 (thanks to the Hendon Mob for the statistical information). Now, Thomas is a convicted felon who will head to prison in September and, perhaps the least of his concerns, a tournament poker career in shambles.

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Borgata “Chipgate” Perpetrator Still in Prison Despite Reports of Release

 Borgata “Chipgate” Perpetrator Still in Prison Despite Reports of Release

Others in the poker media have been reporting that the perpetrator of the Borgata “Chipgate” scandal from 2014, Christian Lusardi, has been released from prison. A little legwork from a valued member of the poker journalism community – and confirmed by this writer – shows that Lusardi is indeed still incarcerated in federal prison.

Reports from PokerNews poker journalist Katie Callahan indicated that Lusardi, who was sentenced in late 2015 to three to five years in federal prison for copyright infringement and trafficking in counterfeit labels (more on this in a moment), was released in July 2016 after only eight months in federal prison. Callahan, who attributed her information to Poker Fraud Alert, only discussed the issue peripherally with fellow PokerNews journalist and noted legal expert “Mac” VerStandig, who surmised it could be possible that any state charges he faced in New Jersey would have been dropped and, with only the federal case, could have been released because of cooperation in the federal investigation.

A deeper look into the Federal Bureau of Prisons and their Inmate Locator revealed the true story, however. Originally found by former Poker News Daily journalist and longtime poker industry member Jessica Welman, her investigation (as reported by revealed that “Christian Patrick Lusardi” is still a member of the federal prison system. He is currently incarcerated at the Edgefield Federal Corrections Institution in Edgefield, SC, with an expected release date of June 8, 2019. This writer’s own examination of the Bureau of Prisons website confirmed the information.

To this point, PokerNews has not updated their story.

The entirety of the Borgata “Chipgate” scandal reads like something out of a Marx Brothers comedy. During the 2014 Borgata Winter Poker Open, the inaugural event – a $ 500 buy in tournament with a $ 1 million guarantee – drew in well north of 2000 players to blow past the guarantee with ease. Lusardi was a part of this tournament and amongst the chip leaders after his Day One play (there were multiple Day Ones for the tournament), but he didn’t return for the second day of competition.

While the tournament staff frantically searched for Lusardi, the comedy of errors expanded. Harrah’s, located down the boardwalk from the Borgata, suffered a clog of its sewage system in the hotel and sent plumbers in to correct the issue. Upon entering the pipes, the plumbers found 2.7 million in counterfeit Borgata tournament chips stopping up the system. Researching their path, the plumbers figured out which room the chips came from – one that had been booked and used by Lusardi prior to the discovery.

Lusardi, instead of putting as much distance between him and Atlantic City as possible, was apprehended later that same day at another hotel on the beach. At that point, he confessed to creating the fake poker chips and, in a moment of panic, chucking them into the commode in his room at Harrah’s to attempt to hide his crime. He also confessed to introducing approximately 800,000 in fake tournament chips into the Borgata tournament, causing it to immediately be shut down.

As it turned out, Lusardi was no stranger to counterfeiting objects. The federal case against Lusardi alleged that he trafficked in Chinese bootleg CDs and DVDs and, as a sidelight, he created the false poker chips with the intent to defraud a Borgata tournament at some point in the future. The federal case took precedent over the state of New Jersey and the Department of Gaming Enforcement’s case against Lusardi; Lusardi plead guilty to the federal charges, receiving a five-year sentence with three years of probation. It isn’t known if the state charges in New Jersey were tied in with that sentence or whether the Borgata charges were dropped following Lusardi’s guilty plea in his federal case.

Instead of being a free man, Lusardi is still in jail and won’t see the outside of the prison in South Carolina until 2019. One might ponder if there are some times when, staring at the ceiling of his cell, Lusardi wonders if it was all worth it.

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