Jacob Sullum

How is helping people play a card game like murder?

At the beginning of last year, Daniel Tzvetkoff, the young Australian entrepreneur who co-founded the online payment processor Intabill in 2007, owned a yacht, 15 luxury cars, a Brisbane nightclub and a Gold Coast mansion. A year later, facing a $43 million lawsuit by a former customer and a $100 million lawsuit by a former partner who accused him of diverting company funds to his own use, he filed for bankruptcy.

But when Tzvetkoff was arrested last week in Las Vegas, his mismanagement of Intabill, which once had more than 5,000 clients worldwide, was not the issue. His crime, according to the U.S. government, was doing precisely what Intabill purported to do: facilitate online payments, including bets by American poker players. His unindicted co-conspirators are the same creditors who are lining up in Brisbane for the money they say Intabill owes them. Viewed as legitimate businesses in the rest of the world, they are treated as criminal enterprises in the U.S., and Tzvetkoff could face life in prison for helping them.

When the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan unsealed Tzvetkoff's indictment on Friday, it was the first time anyone had been publicly charged with violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). The UIGEA, enacted in 2006, makes it a federal crime for someone "engaged in the business of betting or wagering" to accept a payment in connection with "unlawful Internet gambling."

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Since Tzvetkoff did not run any gambling businesses, he is accused of conspiring with others who do, including the operators of such popular Websites as PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. The indictment also alleges a conspiracy to violate the Illegal Gambling Business Act.

Based on the same transactions, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara threw in two money-laundering counts and a bank fraud charge, which alleges that Tzvetkoff misled American financial institutions about where money drawn from their customers' accounts was going. Since the only gain from the alleged fraud was the banks' usual services at their usual rates, this charge seems legally questionable.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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