By Grant McCool
NEW YORK (Reuters) - One of the owners of three of the largest Internet poker companies pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a criminal charge of deceiving U.S. banks over the processing of gambling proceeds.
Absolute Poker co-owner Brent Beckley, 31, admitted in Manhattan federal court to conspiring to break U.S. laws against gambling on the Internet. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud.
Twelve people have been charged in the case, including 11 in April when the U.S. government seized the Internet domain names of the three largest Internet poker companies: Absolute Poker, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars.
Full Tilt Poker owner Raymond Bitar, PokerStars owner Isai Scheinberg and Absolute Poker owners Beckley and Scott Tom were also charged with breaking the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and other laws.
Beckley told U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis that at Absolute Poker between 2006 and April 2011 he accepted credit cards from players so they could bet on the Internet. He said he disguised the purpose of the payments.
"I knew it was illegal to deceive the banks in this way," Beckley told the judge.
The bank fraud charge carries a possible maximum prison sentence of 30 years, but under a plea agreement in the court record, Beckley will likely serve a term of between 12 months and 18 months.
His lawyer, Robert Cleary, declined comment.
The indictment said that between 2008 and 2011 Beckley hired so-called "payment processor" Ira Rubin to help the company avoid U.S. gambling laws. Rubin would process e-checks for Absolute Poker disguised as payroll processing, affiliate marketing and online electronics merchants, according to the indictment.
Rubin, who lived in Central America for years to avoid a telemarketing fraud charge, is close to a plea agreement, according to his lawyer.
Prosecutors said that of the billions of dollars the poker companies tricked U.S. banks into processing, approximately one-third or more of the money went directly to the companies as revenue through the "rake" charged to players on almost every poker hand played online.
The government has also filed a civil lawsuit against the Full Tilt Poker website. They accused self-styled "Poker Professor" Howard Lederer and professional poker champion Christopher Ferguson and others of paying themselves more than $440 million while defrauding other players.
The case is USA v Tzvetkoff et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 10-00336.
(Reporting by Grant McCool; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)