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Federal prosecutors call Full Tilt Poker 'a global Ponzi scheme'

September 20, 2011 | 11:03 am

Ferguson How’s this for a bad hand: Federal prosecutors on Tuesday said the Full Tilt Poker website “was not a legitimate poker company, but a global Ponzi scheme.”

Amending a forfeiture and civil money laundering complaint unsealed in April, prosecutors said Full Tilt “cheated and abused its own players to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The company’s owners, including poker stars Howard Lederer and Christopher Ferguson, paid out nearly $444 million to themselves and board members, according to the U.S. attorney’s office of the Southern District of New York.

Meanwhile, Full Tilt didn’t have enough money to pay back players, according to the accusation. This spring, when the company had just $60 million in its coffers, it owed $390 million to players worldwide, including $150 million to U.S. players, the complaint said.

Instead, company executives dipped into accounts that they had assured players were segregated and safe in order to transfer money to board members’ overseas accounts, prosecutors allege.

Players were left gambling with “phantom funds,” according to the complaint.

In addition to Lederer, who calls himself The Poker Professor, and cowboy hat-wearing Ferguson, the motion also singles out board member Rafael Furst and chief executive Raymond Bitar.

Prosecutors filed the original complaint in April against Full Tilt and Internet poker companies PokerStars and Absolute Poker, alleging bank fraud, illegal gambling and money laundering.

RELATED:

PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker reopen -- but not for play

Full Tilt Poker defends itself and its CEO amid FBI crackdown

Three largest online poker sites indicted and shut down by FBI

-- Tiffany Hsu

twitter.com/tiffhsulatimes

Photo: Chris Ferguson and his sunglasses. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

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