Testimony: No warrant for FBI ruse in Vegas case

AP News
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Posted: Dec 17, 2014 11:06 PM
Testimony: No warrant for FBI ruse in Vegas case

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada casino regulator told a federal judge Wednesday that he and FBI agents briefed an assistant U.S. attorney but not a judge before posing as Internet repairmen to enter high-roller suites at Caesars Palace and collect evidence for a warrant in what they believed was an illegal online sports gambling operation.

Like other witnesses before him, Nevada Gaming Control Board Special Agent Ricardo Lopez testified they didn't have the prosecutor's OK and didn't have a warrant before disabling Internet service so the undercover agents would be invited into exclusive villas at Caesars Palace.

They also didn't have consent from Caesars Palace, Lopez said — contradicting FBI agent Minh Pham's testimony earlier this week that investigators had hotel employee consent.

"Did you come to understand that Caesars did not consent to the interruption of Internet service?" Lopez was asked by defense attorney Thomas Goldstein.

"Yes," Lopez responded.

Paul Urban, a security chief for casino parent company Caesars Entertainment, testified Tuesday that he checked with corporate lawyers about the planned ruse and was advised not to grant consent. The reason was guest privacy, he said.

Lopez and Pham worked side-by-side in the undercover operation. Lopez's testimony came on the third day of a suppression hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen in Las Vegas.

The judge is being asked to throw out evidence about what prosecutors say was a $13 million gambling ring focusing on the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament and headed by Malaysian businessman Wei Seng "Paul" Phua, 50, and his son, Darren Wai Kit Phua, 23.

Goldstein and defense attorney David Chesnoff have questioned agents, casino executives, butlers and Michael Wood, the Caesars Palace consultant who worked most closely with the state and federal agents.

Wood testified he provided agents with work shirts from his company, Wood TeleManagement Solutions, and cooperated with the ruse because he thought Urban, the casino security chief, approved the plan.

Leen at one point questioned FBI agent Mike Kung directly about whether he knew no warrant had been issued before he took part in the Internet ruse July 4.

Kung said he assumed they had the go-ahead because he knew his colleagues consulted with the federal prosecutor, FBI lawyers and Caesars executives.

A search warrant affidavit later submitted to a judge to obtain arrest warrants contained no mention of the deception, and Goldstein and Chesnoff have suggested that references were deliberately scrubbed from investigative files and FBI "302" reports turned over to the defense in preparation for trial.

Instead, it came to light when the defense was given lapel camera video shot by undercover agents posing as Internet repairmen to enter luxury villas reserved for the biggest gamblers, celebrities and rock stars.

The judge said Wednesday she intends to take more testimony from Pham on Thursday and then consider documents submitted to her before deciding whether to suppress evidence in the case. It wasn't clear how long that would take.

Meanwhile, the Phuas remain in the U.S. after posting more than $2 million cash bail and letting the government impound Wei Seng Phua's $48 million private Gulfstream jet as collateral. They're also wearing GPS monitoring devices.

The father and son were among eight people arrested July 13.

Five Chinese citizens pleaded guilty last week to reduced charges in the case, paid a combined $950,000 in fines, and forfeited hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Charges were dropped against a sixth person. All were ordered out of the U.S. for at least five years.

The elder Phua also faces charges of running an illegal sports gambling business in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau, where he was arrested June 18 and freed on bail. He and his son flew a few days later to Las Vegas.