Absolute Poker exec pleads guilty to U.S. gambling indictment

Brent Bentley, the director of payment processing for Absolute Poker, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan, New York, to conspiracy to engage in unlawful internet gambling and conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, in connection with a scheme to deceive U.S. banks and financial institutions, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York reported.

Bentley was accused of using banks to process tens of millions of dollars in payments for Absolute Poker, which is based in Costa Rica.

Beckley is a United States citizen who had been living in Costa Rica. He returned to the United States voluntarily Monday in connection with a superseding indictment unsealed April 15 that charged him and 10 others with crimes relating to the illegal operation of three internet poker companies, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Beckley pleaded guilty before U. S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis.

According to the superseding indictment, other documents previously filed in the case, and statements made in court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office gave this account:

In late 2006, Congress enacted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act making it a crime to knowingly accept most forms of payment in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling. Following the passage of the act, leading Internet gambling businesses withdrew from the U. S. market. Absolute Poker, however, did not.

Along with several other Internet poker companies, Absolute Poker continued to operate in defiance of the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Because U. S. banks were largely unwilling to process payments for an illegal activity such as Internet gambling, Absolute Poker used fraudulent methods to avoid these restrictions and to receive tens of millions of dollars from U. S. residents who gambled online.
As the head of payment processing for Absolute Poker, Beckley oversaw these deceptive processing methods.

For example, because most U. S. credit card issuers block Internet gambling transactions, Beckley disguised Absolute Poker transactions so that they would appear to be from other, non-gambling online merchants, such as online flower shops or pet supply stores that would be approved despite credit card company policy.

To accomplish this deceit, Beckley relied on co-conspirators who allegedly created shell companies, complete with phony Web sites, to use as covers for Absolute Poker transactions.

An Absolute Poker report from the fall of 2007 identified approximately 20 phony Internet shopping companies being used by the gambling company to disguise credit card transactions, such as www.petfoodstore.biz and www.beddingsuperstore. tv.

Beckley surrendered to law enforcement agents Monday and was released on bail following his court appearance.

Beckley, 31, faces a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan next April 19, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Four additional defendants charged in the superseding indictment have appeared in the United States to date, including Bradley Franzen, Ira Rubin, Chad Elie, and John Campos.

Franzen pleaded guilty May 23 and awaits sentencing. Trial for the remaining defendants is set for March 12 before Judge Kaplan.

Absolute Poker has been based in Plaza Mayor, Rohrmoser. The primary Web site is now Absolutepoker.co.eu.

The online gambling business is operated by Blanca Games Inc., which says it is incorporated in Antigua and Barbuda. Blanca says it is licensed by the gaming commission of the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake in Quebec, Canada.

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