US federal prosecutors have asked a judge to reconsider a court ruling preventing them from using crucial evidence against accused sports betting operator Wei Seng ‘Paul’ Phua (pictured).
On Tuesday, prosecutors filed papers asking US District Judge Andrew Gordon to reconsider US Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen’s recommendation that prosecutors not be allowed to use evidence gained via questionable FBI tactics. Prosecutors have previously stated that the evidence in question is crucial to their case, which is supposed to go to trial on April 13.
Phua, his son Darren, poker player Richard Yong and five other individuals were arrested last July on charges of operating an illegal online sportsbook out of three luxury villas at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Suspecting chicanery was going on behind the villas’ walls, the FBI shut off the villas’ internet connection and then, when the occupants called to complain, sent in agents disguised as Caesars’ tech support wearing hidden body cameras.
The FBI agents neglected to mention their subterfuge when obtaining their warrants. For that omission and for having made other “false and misleading statements,” Judge Leen ruled that the search warrant affidavit was “fatally flawed.” Leen therefore recommended that the evidence obtained via the warrant – computers, mobile phones and other technology – be deemed inadmissible.
On Tuesday, assistant US Attorneys Kimberly Frayn and Phillip Smith Jr. argued that the FBI had presented sufficient legitimate evidence of probable cause when applying for the warrant. The prosecutors argued that the agents’ errors and omissions were neither intentional nor of a material nature sufficient to toss out the evidence obtained via the warrant.
Meanwhile, Phua’s attorneys David Chesnoff and Thomas Goldstein filed their own papers protesting Leen’s ruling that agents hadn’t violated the defendants’ fourth amendment rights by pulling the internet plug and playing dress-up. In a filing viewed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the lawyers argued that the government’s behavior – and Leen’s validation of said behavior – “would shock the conscience of ordinary Americans” and represented “an assault on our deepest constitutional values.”
Five of the defendants in this case have already reached plea deals with prosecutors, while charges against a sixth defendant were dropped, leaving only the Phuas still fighting the charges.