Amid the fanfare of the 2009 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event in Las Vegas, Costigan Media, the parent company of Gambling911, has filed suit to open warrants in the case involving the seizure of $30 million in online poker player funds by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District. It is the first legal action brought after the Southern District acted in June.
The reason for the Federal Government’s seizure remains a mystery. In the past, media outlets have been authorized to file legal action in matters of public record. Costigan Media’s filing notes, “Resolution of this issue will require the Court to define the scope of the public’s and the media’s First Amendment and common law rights of access to judicial documents.” The Southern District seized well over $30 million last month, adversely affecting more than 24,000 online poker players. Many rooms reimbursed players for difficulties cashing out and, in some cases, awarded an extra 10% cash bonus for any inconvenience.
Costigan Media is seeking the unsealing of the warrant, the affidavit for the warrant, and any other relevant documents that remain under wraps. The warrant in question was used to seize funds from a Wells Fargo branch in San Francisco, California on June 2nd. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz signed the document, with an affidavit sworn to by Dana Conte, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent. Costigan Media’s filing reveals that Katz stated, “I am satisfied that there is probable cause to believe that the property so described is subject to seizure and civil forfeiture.” The parent company of Gambling911 added that the order sealing the warrant is also sealed, further complicating the situation. Funds were held in account 7986104185 under the name Account Services. The case is numbered 09-MAG-1320.
Gambling911 boasts affiliate links for UltimateBet, Players Only, Doyle’s Room, Absolute Poker, and a host of online sports betting sites. Noticeably absent are Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, two of the heaviest hit sites by the funds seizure. Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) Executive Director Joe Brennan told Poker News Daily, “The government can’t even make a substantive claim that Gambling911 is acting on its own financial interest because of its own affiliate marketing. Instead, they want the news and opportunity.”
The court filing also questions, “The narrow but important issue presented in this case is whether the well-established First Amendment and common law rights to public proceedings and access to documents that ordinarily apply to judicial documents extend to a civil seizure warrant that has already been executed, but where no criminal charges have been brought.” On the media conglomerate’s chances of successfully opening the seizure warrants, Brennan told Poker News Daily, “It depends on who does the asking and where they do the asking. This is a little different in that there’s not a lot of precedent for new media outlets. It is a little groundbreaking for them to be doing this, but the precedent varies from district to district.”
Costigan Media also questions the reason for document being sealed. It speculates that “secrecy in ongoing investigations to protect confidential sources,” and “concerns of all of the un-indicted parties implicated by the Conte Affidavit” may be to blame. The company explains, “The public’s interest in criminal prosecutions should not be held hostage by a government’s blanket unsupported assertion of confidentiality or privacy concerns.” Brennan noted that the legal matter will take at least 10 days, which may be elongated by the upcoming Fourth of July holiday weekend in the United States.
Costigan Media is represented by Baruch Weiss and Matthew Trokenheim of Arent Fox in New York City. The action is dated July 2nd, just one day before the start of the 2009 WSOP Main Event from the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The $10,000 buy-in tournament kicks off today with the first of four starting days.
Stay tuned to Poker News Daily for the latest news surrounding the online poker funds seizure.