Someone in the US Department of Justice really wants to keep Paul Phua’s private jet.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Nevada charged the Malaysian businessman with conspiracy, a side dish to his existing charges of operating an illegal gambling business and transmission of wagering information. Phua has a May 20 court date to answer to the new charge.
Phua is the last man standing of the eight individuals arrested in July 2014 for allegedly running an illegal online sportsbook out of three luxury villas at Caesars Palace. The other accused have either seen their charges dropped or have reached settlements with the feds, as Phua’s son Darren did in March.
Phua has refused to cut a deal and has spent the last year under house arrest in Vegas while his lawyers did battle. Phua’s resolve appeared to have paid off last month when a federal judge declared the bulk of the FBI’s evidence inadmissible due to some epic Fourth Amendment trampling.
However, that ruling only applied to evidence seized at the villa in which Phua resided. Evidence collected from the other two villas – where most of the bookmaking allegedly took place – remains fair game. Prosecutors believe this will prove “more than sufficient to sustain” the charges against Phua, who they claimed “maintained a leadership role in the illegal betting operation.”
Phua’s lawyers have already filed motions to bar the government from using evidence collected at the other villas. The Las Vegas Review-Journal quoted attorney David Chesnoff scoffing at the new charge against his client, saying “you cannot be guilty of conspiracy if you never agreed to do anything that’s illegal.” Chesnoff also took a shot at the government’s lawyers’ desperation, calling conspiracy charges “the darling of a prosecutor’s nursery.”
The feds believe the FIFA World Cup online betting operation earned profits of $13m before the whip came down. The feds wanted the defendants to write them a check for the same amount. Most of the plea deals were in the low- to mid-six-figure range, leaving the bulk of that $13m bill still outstanding.
Phua had to put up $2.5m in cash plus his $48m Gulfstream jet just to obtain house arrest privileges. That was eight-and-a-half months ago. To paraphrase Junior Soprano, Phua’s been wearing an ankle bracelet and farting into the same couch cushions for too long. With the bulk of their case in shreds and their reputation increasingly tarnished, the feds should just chalk this one as an own goal and let Phua rejoin his son in Malaysia already.