Raymond Bitar, the former chief executive officer (CEO) of Full Tilt Poker, which is now owned by its one-time rival PokerStars, has pleaded guilty to the criminal charges filed against him and has thus saved himself from spending time in prison. Bitar is scheduled to undergo a heart transplant procedure in California.
In July 2012, the feds arrested Bitar when he alighted at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. When the US federal government cracked down on three major online poker rooms—Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and Absolute Poker—in May 2011, Bitar was one of the 11 others charged for illegal gambling, money laundering, and bank fraud. According to John F. Baughman, Bitar’s lawyer, 41-year-old Bitar has suffered a heart attack and needs to undergo a heart transplant procedure in order to survive.
Bitar pleaded guilty before Loretta Preska, a Manhattan US district judge, from California through a video conference. The judge, who sentenced him to “time served,” said that Bitar has requested exemption from prison time because of his medical problems. She stated that the US Bureau of Prisons has admitted that it has no facilities to take care of heart patients like Bitar, adding that, if given prison time, Bitar’s condition would worsen and even kill him. The judge said, “I don’t think any of us would trade places with him, no matter what.”
Bitar has admitted that he had violated the Unlawful Internet Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, which prevents banks and financial institutions from processing gambling related funds. He has also pleaded guilty to wire and bank fraud. If the court had found him guilty of bank fraud, he would have been sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. He said, “I regret my actions. I know they were wrong and illegal. I am very sorry.”
Since Bitar has pleaded guilty, he will have to forfeit a lot of his property, including his house and $40 million. Originally, Bitar was booked for wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy in connection with the operation of Full Tilt Poker.
The federal government had originally charged 11 people, and 8 of them have already pleaded guilty. Nelson Burtnick, who was in-charge of payment processing at PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, has also pleaded guilty.
According to federal prosecutors, Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and Absolute Poker were guilty of fooling banks into processing gambling funds by disguising them as payments made to online merchants, who did not exist.