Raymond Bitar, founder of defunct online poker site Full Tilt, was arrested Monday by the FBI at John F. Kennedy International Airport as he returned from the company’s headquarters in Ireland, the LA Times reported. Bitar had remained in Ireland for the past year, since his indictment and the federal shutdown of the US site.
The federal government shut down Full Tilt in the US on April 15, 2011, on the grounds that online poker is contrary to federal law, according to Forbes.
Prosecutors state that Full Tilt operated like a Ponzi scheme, failing to keep users’ deposits separate from company revenues and spending their money on company expenses and executive salaries.
Meanwhile, the company issued assurances to players that it kept “100% of customers’ funds in segregated accounts,” the indictment states.
Full Tilt owes players worldwide approximately $350 million in deposits, according to federal prosecutors.
Federal prosecutors charged Bitar with bank fraud, money laundering, gambling, and defrauding customers, to which Bitar pleaded not guilty at a hearing on Monday afternoon. If convicted of all charges, Bitar would face 145 years in prison, Forbes reported.
In a statement, Bitar said he had returned from Ireland voluntarily in order to face the charges against him.
“I know that a lot of people are very angry at me,” he said. “I understand why. Full Tilt should never have gotten into a position where it could not repay player funds.”
Bitar said that he has “worked hard on possible solutions to get the players repaid” during his time in Ireland.
“Returning today is part of that process. I believe we are near the end of a very long road, and I will continue to do whatever is required to get the players repaid, and I hope that it will happen soon.”
Full Tilt lost its access to new finances with its US shutdown, but continued to solicit and accept funds from US players, according to Forbes.
The company did not maintain sufficient funds to withstand player withdrawals.
Bitar concealed Full Tilt’s financial problems to avoid “a possible new run on the bank,” according to an email from Bitar to the company’s other owners obtained by prosecutors.
As early as June 12, 2011, the date of the email, Full Tilt couldn’t “even take a 5 million run,” Bitar wrote.
Although a Full Tilt press release in March 2011 claimed that its delay in refunding players was due to “legal and jurisdictional issues,” the company at the time possessed only $60 million of the $390 million it owed to players, prosecutors wrote in the legal filing.
Prosecutors also indicted Nelson Burtnick, who like Bitar continued to receive a salary amounting to several million dollars after the site shut down. Burtnick remains at large, Forbes wrote.