Absolute Poker’s Brent Beckley Receives 14 Month Sentence

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Brent Beckley, co-founder of Absolute Poker, was sentenced to 14 months in prison Monday. Beckley was one of 11 people named in the federal indictments unsealed on April 15, 2011, better known in the poker community as “Black Friday.”

In December, Beckley pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Bank and Wire Fraud, one of nine charges listed in the Black Friday indictment. When he appeared before Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, he took responsibility for his actions, saying, “I knew that it was illegal to deceive the banks.”

That deception was detailed in the indictment, which said, in part, that Beckley “…worked with and directed other to apply incorrect transaction codes to…internet gambling transactions in order to disguise the nature of those transactions and create the false appearance that the transactions were completely unrelated to internet gambling.”

Additionally, “At various times alleged in this Indictment…Brent Beckley…worked with other members of the conspiracy to create such fictitious companies – including phony online flower shops and pet supply stores – that established Visa and MasterCard merchant processing accounts with offshore banks.”

Beckley’s original sentencing date was this spring, but Judge Lewis Kaplan pushed it back so an upward adjustment could be considered. The sentencing guideline range in this case was 12-18 months, so the 14 months Beckley was given is reasonable. In delaying sentencing, Kaplan wanted to look more closely at “the reasonably foreseeable pecuniary harm” to the banks Beckley pleaded guilty to defrauding. Judge Kaplan said that Beckley “conspired to circumvent, and circumvented, governing laws of the United States in order to conduct or facilitate an unlawful business or businesses involving billions of dollars from which those businesses gained many millions of dollars,” and thus may deserve a harsher sentence than 12-18 months.

Obviously, Judge Kaplan ultimately decided that an upward departure was not necessary.

In handing down the 14 month sentence on Monday, Judge Kaplan said, “…the sentence has to make clear that the government of the United States means business in these types of cases.”

For his part, Beckley said, “I fooled myself into thinking that what I was doing was OK.”

The last few months have been busy ones for plea deals and sentencing in the Black Friday case. About a month ago, John Campos, former vice chairman of Utah’s SunFirst Bank, was sentenced to three months in prison after pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor illegal gambling charge. In March, Chad Elie pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Bank Fraud as well as operating an illegal gambling business, a deal that allowed him to avoid a trial. Elie’s sentencing will not be until October, but is expected to be between 6 and 12 months. Ira Rubin also pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in January and should get 18 to 24 months behind bars.

The big catch so far has been Full Tilt Poker CEO Ray Bitar, who surrendered to government officials earlier this month. He was released on $2.5 million bail a week later. He will stay at his home in California while he awaits further court appearances.

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