Judge Questions Black Friday Plea Bargain: "You're Walking Away?"

Published on Mar 29th, 2012

According to an article from the Associated Press on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan is questioning the plea bargain struck between U.S. Government officials and John Campos, the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors and Co-Owner of SunFirst Bank in Utah. As part of the deal, Campos admitted wrongdoing for his part in the Black Friday indictments to the tune of a single misdemeanor charge and could face up to six months behind bars.

A Forbes article printed earlier this week indicated that the plea bargains with Campos and Chad Elie, an online poker payment processor, could have been forged in order to avoid a trial about the legality of online poker in the United States: "The fact that Federal prosecutors agreed to let Campos plead to a misdemeanor indicates that they wanted to avoid a trial that could have had wide-reaching consequences and impacted the Government's case against the indicted founders of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker."

According to the Associated Press, Kaplan questioned, "You're basically walking away from the prosecution?" He also questioned "the severity of the outcome after Campos admitted that the bank where he served as Vice Chairman of its Board of Directors and a part owner had processed $200 million in gambling proceeds between late 2009 and last year." Kaplan will address the plea bargain during the sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for June 27th.

A legal expert told PocketFives that plea bargains are subject to a judge's discretion.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Goldstein attempted to rationalize the plea deal by pointing out that "the stipulated sentencing range of up to six months in prison was about what Campos would face if he pleaded guilty to a felony" and that "the Government had succeeded in banning the 57-year-old Campos from future jobs with banking institutions," according to the Associated Press.

In the original Black Friday indictments, Government officials alleged that Campos processed internet gambling transactions in exchange for a $10 million investment in SunFirst Bank (pictured) by Elie and another individual. Campos also reaped a $20,000 bonus for consenting. "In an e-mail, one of Elie's associates boasted that they had 'purchased' SunFirst and that they 'were looking to purchase' 'a grand total of three or four banks' to process payments," according to prosecutors.

Campos' legal counsel, according to the Associated Press, countered by saying "that he did not believe the investment was in return for the processing of gambling proceeds."

Campos was arrested in Utah on Black Friday and faced a litany of charges that included conspiracy to violate the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), violating the UIGEA, operating an illegal gambling business, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy.

Federal prosecutors have received guilty pleas for seven of the 11 Black Friday defendants. You'll recall that in December, the U.S. Department of Justice opined that the Wire Act applies to online sports betting only. However, none of the Black Friday defendants' charges involved the Wire Act itself, but rather the aforementioned crimes like violating the UIGEA and bank fraud.

According to the Associated Press, "There were trial risks [involved with prosecuting Campos], especially after people working on behalf of the gambling outlets had given Campos legal opinions suggesting that it might not be illegal to process the money for internet gambling companies."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Arlo Devlin-Brown backed up the sentiments that "trial risks" existed, leaving one TwoPlusTwo poster to observe, "That's the first public acknowledgment that I've seen from a Government attorney that they recognize the fundamental risk that the underlying activity Campos is charged with may not actually be illegal."

Reacting to Kaplan second-guessing the plea deal was Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas, who told PocketFives on Thursday, "The Government had a weak case all along. They used very intimidating tactics to bring these charges. Clearly, the deals they've cut are a reflection of their weak case."

What makes online poker difficult to prosecute in open court? Pappas weighed in, "The attorneys for Campos and Elie set up very compelling reasons why these charges should not apply. One of the leading facts on their side is that poker is undoubtedly a game of skill, and they were ready to prove it in a court of law."

Stay tuned to PocketFives for the latest Black Friday fallout.


  1. If it's such a weak case, why not risk trial? Although, if I had a pile of cash stashed off grid, I'd do my six months, save lawyer costs, and disappear Kaiser Soze style forever.

    Originally Posted by Scrantos View Post

    If it's such a weak case, why not risk trial? Although, if I had a pile of cash stashed off grid, I'd do my six months, save lawyer costs, and disappear Kaiser Soze style forever.

    Take the deal get 6 months. Go to trial and lose, get 10+ years. Are you willing to risk that? Seems -ev to me.

    Originally Posted by doc793 View Post

    Take the deal get 6 months. Go to trial and lose, get 10+ years. Are you willing to risk that? Seems -ev to me.

    Surely -EV. Courts are a joke, even if you are right you still get found guilty and do most of your time before an appeal sets you free, and that assumes a court agrees. Usually they don't, knowing nobody will really find out and nobody really cares. You think we have the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world because there is justice in the courtroom for the average person? Ninja please.

  4. Scrantos: John Campos was offered a plea bargain by the damn DOJ to a misdemeanor charge with NO jail time. Even though the DOJ case is VERY weak, a court trial could drag on for years incurring huge attorney fees. Only a Chimpanzee would NOT accept this plea bargain deal. The bottom line here is the damn US Department of Justice are a bunch of Nazis using vague and useless and obscure laws to harrass American citizens. The DOJ are the BAD guys here. The DOJ is wasting resources harrassing American citizens who play a card game in their own homes, while REAL crimes like identity theft rings and sex slave rings and heroin trafficking rings continue to do business as usual. This is an OUTRAGE ! American citizens should DEMAND a total house cleaning at the DOJ and Attorney General Eric Holder should be FIRED !!

  5. I wish someone would get some balls and stand up to the DOJ. We really need to attack the DOJ head on.

    The wire act law was put into effect long before the internet was ever invented. Oh and these multi state mega millions lotteries is somehow exempted from this law?

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