Raymond Bitar, the chief executive officer for online poker website Full Tilt Poker, was arrested by federal law enforcement officials on Monday in connection with a $430 million Ponzi scheme that the website was accused of operating in 2011. Bitar surrendered to authorities voluntarily at John F. Kennedy International Airport upon returning from Full Tilt’s headquarters in Ireland in order to face the punishment for his crimes. Bitar allegedly defrauded his customers by lying to them about the security of their funds. Bitar has been charged with bank fraud, gambling and money laundering offenses.
Full Tilt owed $300 million to poker players across the world as of June 2011 but only had $6 million to pay their customers, according to the United States government. Bitar allegedly siphoned over $430 million in gambler’s winnings to owners and board members.
“Bitar and Full Tilt Poker persisted in soliciting U.S. gamblers long after such conduct was outlawed,” Janice K. Fedarcyk, assistant director-in-charge at the FBI, said in a statement. “Now he stands accused of defrauding Full Tilt’s customers by concealing its cash-poor condition and paying off early creditors with deposits from later customers.”
On Monday afternoon, Bitar appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman after being charged originally on April 15, 2011. Bitar is 40 and is the seventh of 11 defendants in the indictment to have been arrested by authorities. The other members of the indictment who have been arrested have pled guilty and are waiting to be sentenced. The only one sentenced so far has been John Campos, who received three months in prison back in June.
“The indictment alleges how Bitar bluffed his player-customers and fixed the game against them as part of an international Ponzi scheme that left players empty-handed,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “Bitar will now be held criminally responsible for the alleged multi-million fraud he perpetrated on his U.S. customers.”
In a statement released by Bitar, he claims that he has spent the previous 15 months attempting to find a solution on how to repay the players. He said that he also understands why so many customers are angry with him and the company.
“I believe we are near the end of a very long road, and I will continue to do whatever is required to get the players repaid,” he said. “I hope that it will happen soon. For the last 15 months, I have worked hard on possible solutions to get the players repaid,” Bitar said. “Returning today is part of that process. I believe we are near the end of a very long road, and I will continue to do whatever is required to get the players repaid, and I hope that it will happen soon.”