Las Vegas Sands accused of flouting anti-money laundering laws (again)

las-vegas-sands-money-laundering-shillsCasino operator Las Vegas Sands has been accused of violating US federal anti-money laundering (AML) rules by a pair of Chinese housekeepers.

Sands is attempting to collect $6.4m it claims are gambling debts run up at the company’s Venetian and Palazzo casinos in Las Vegas by Xiufei Yang and Meie Sun, Chinese citizens who work as housekeepers in Nevada.

But attorneys representing the two women claim Yang and Sun were acting as ‘shills’ who solicited credit from the casinos on behalf of Chinese high-rollers who didn’t want their names associated with gambling activity.

In court documents viewed by Reuters, Sun claimed that a VIP host at the Palazzo told her in 2009 that she could receive between $2k to $3k in exchange for signing her name to casino markers and sitting beside Asian high-rollers who bet big on baccarat in Sands’ VIP rooms. David told Sun that she wouldn’t be held liable for the IOUs. Yang said she was offered a similar deal in 2011.

Sun claims to have been introduced to the shill game by junket operators Liming Jiang and her husband Fai Wong. Two former Sands staffers claim that Wong liked to use women as shills, while a man claiming to be Wong’s assistant said Wong had a rotating cast of shills to get around the fact that casinos won’t give credit to anyone with an outstanding marker.

The arrangement reportedly worked well for years, as the Chinese gamblers made good on their debts after returning home. But in Feb. 2012, a gambler for whom Yang had signed a marker reneged on a $5m gambling loss. Later that year, a gambler reneged on a $1.38m marker made out in Sun’s name.

In 2015, Clark County’s Bad Check Unit initiated fraud charges against the two women. But prosecutors dropped the charges this spring after defense attorneys subpoenaed the two casinos’ VIP credit files and surveillance footage of the two women in the VIP rooms.

The Clark County District Attorney’s Office now intends to pursue its case against the women in front of a grand jury rather than a judge, presumably because – as the saying goes – a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich in front of a grand jury.

Sands spokesman Ron Reese said there was no “clear evidence” to support the defense attorneys’ allegations, which Reese called a “smokescreen” to distract the courts from the women’s debts.

Reese claimed that it was not “a common practice” for individuals to “sign markers on someone else’ behalf,” before adding that it was possible that gamblers who exceeded their credit limits could have struck private deals with the two women.

Reese later said that Sands would take “appropriate action” against its employees “if credible proof is presented” of their wrongdoing. But Reese insisted that employee involvement wouldn’t absolve the women of their debt obligations.

This isn’t the first time that Sands’ Vegas properties have been accused of skirting federal AML rules. In 2013, Sands paid $47.4m to resolve a US Department of Justice investigation into Sands’ dealings with Zhenli Ye Gon, a high-roller who the DOJ accused of being a major methamphetamine supplier.

Interestingly, Kevin Rosenberg, who represents one of the Chinese women in the shill case, was a former assistant US Attorney who helped lead the Ye Gon investigation.

The past few years have seen US casino operators under heightened scrutiny by the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). In 2015, Caesars Palace and the Trump Taj Mahal were fined $9.5m and $10m, respectively, for high-roller shenanigans, while this April saw the Sparks Nugget Casino fined $1m for “wilful disregard” of AML laws. FinCEN has also laid a string of seven-figure fines on California card rooms over the past year.