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In an article that appeared late last month on MontanaKaimin.com, Absolute Poker co-founder Brent Beckley (pictured, image courtesy August Miller Photo) talked about the history of what was once one of the largest online poker rooms in the world. Then, Black Friday forced Absolute and its sister site, UB.com, out of the American market. Later, the rooms reportedly entered liquidation with no sign that players will ever receive any of their funds back. "That sounds like the dumbest idea I've ever heard. Online poker?" That was the response of Pete Barovich when Scott Tom asked him to join his online poker team. Beckley, who was working an internship at the time in 2002, helped out the group after his job had finished for the day. As the article explained, Beckley originally turned down a permanent job offer from Tom to work on Absolute Poker: "In May, 2003, Beckley graduated with a 2.80 GPA in business administration and finance. Tom called Beckley and asked him to join the business, which they had since moved to Costa Rica. 'No, man. Now I've got a degree. I'm a college graduate. I'm going to get a real job," Beckley said." Beckley ultimate obliged and headed to Costa Rica after repeated phone calls from Tom. The article noted that when the World Poker Tour began airing on TV, registrations for Absolute Poker shot up from 20 to 2,000 – per day. As Beckley told reporters, "It was so much fun. We would all work 16 to 18 hours a day. And every time we would go to lunch together or we'd go to dinner together or go out at night, we were talking about work. It was just like this incredible group think where that was what we did." With all of its success, the company set its sights on going public, following in the footsteps of Party Gaming, but needed one more year of audited financial statements in order to do so. Before the year was over, however, the world came tumbling down around them. At the time, the company was reportedly worth $100 million and revenues were sitting around $40 million annually. According to the article, "Lawyers were unclear about the [2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act] and thought it wouldn't last, Beckley said. The legislation required the US Treasury Department to define how banks were going to work within the new law, which wouldn't happen for another three years, in 2009." Beckley said, "It just didn't seem right that the Government could pass this piece of vague legislation in the middle of the night and take it away from us." In order to continue processing transactions, "Beckley started working with companies that processed payments differently. Overseas banks would label poker transactions as sales for t-shirts, golf balls, or other items so the US banks would release the funds." This alleged bank fraud would ultimately become the centerpiece of the US Government's clampdown on Black Friday exactly three years ago. Beckley, who was 31 at the time, faced charges including conspiracy to violate the UIGEA, violating the UIGEA, operating an illegal gambling business, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy. Beckley gave his take on the transaction coding to MontanaKaimin.com: "It wasn't about being shady, it was about letting the customers do what they wanted to and about keeping our business running." Beckley and Tom (pictured) were among 11 people indicted on Black Friday and the former was ultimately sentenced to 14 months behind bars. As for Tom, "[He] was vacationing in Antigua with his girlfriend. He decided to stay where he was and remains there today, Beckley said. The Federal Government considers him 'at large.'" Barovich visited Beckley in prison, telling the site, "What we were doing, again, it's not even for argument, what we were doing wasn't wrong… Technically it's what they call a victimless crime. That means no one person or no one company was damaged." Beckley was reportedly released from jail four months early. Read more by checking out the MontanaKaimin.com article. Want the latest poker headlines and interviews? Follow PocketFives on Twitterand Like PocketFives on Facebook. You can also subscribe to our RSS feed.
[caption width="640"] Players with balances on AbsolutePoker and UB can now apply for a refund through the US Department of Justice.[/caption] Just five days before what will be the sixth anniversary of Black Friday, online poker players affected by the shutdown of AbsolutePoker.com and UB.com have gotten good news from the United States Attorney's Office or the Southern District of New York. Beginning immediately, players who had funds on AbsolutePoker.com and UB.com on April 15, 2011, can apply to have their balances refunded to them via AbsolutePokerClaims.com. The US Department of Justice has again contracted Garden City Group to handle all applications and payments. In a press release from the DOJ issued Monday afternoon, Joon H. Kim, who is the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York following the resignation of Preet Bharara, announced the compensation program. "Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the United States has retained the Garden City Group (“GCG”) to oversee a process for compensating eligible victims of a fraud committed by Absolute Poker against United States players who were unable to withdraw funds from Absolute Poker following the Office’s filing in 2011 of a civil money laundering and forfeiture action against Absolute Poker and others in United States v. PokerStars, et al. GCG is already overseeing the claims process for eligible victims of the fraud committed by Full Tilt Poker against United States players, as described in both United States v. PokerStars, et al., and the indictment in the parallel criminal case, United States v. Bitar, et. al. To date, approximately $118 million has been paid to Full Tilt Poker fraud victims through that process. The process is nearly identical to the one used by the GCG to refund players with Full Tilt Poker balances. That process, which is "winding down" according to the DOJ, paid out $118,116,918.04 to 44,320 American players. The deadline to apply is June 9, 2017. Past or present employees, company shareholders, company officers or directors or "Professional Poker Players" and affiliates are ineligible. During the Full Tilt remissions process, many FTP pros were denied their initial claim only to have their balances refunded during subsequent rounds of refunds. Players with account balances were contacted via the email on file in their account and can use that information to begin the application process. Players who did not receive the email can begin the process by using their Player ID, last name and the email address on file. Players who agree with the account balance that GCG has on file are not required to submit any further documentation to receive payment. Players who wish to dispute the amount will need to provide supporting documentation such as financial statements for review. Players will not receive any compensation for tournament dollars, step tickets, loyalty points or event dollars on their account. The DOJ went on to compare the business practices of Absolute Poker to those of Full Tilt Poker. "Additionally, the Department of Justice has concluded that players of Absolute Poker who were unable to recover their funds from Absolute Poker are similarly situated to the eligible victims of Full Tilt Poker, in that Absolute Poker, like Full Tilt Poker, did not maintain funds sufficient to repay all of its players," the release stated. The news comes six weeks after AbsolutePoker founder Scott Tom returned to the United States to face Black Friday charges. PocketFives will continue to provide updates on the claims process as more information becomes available.
[caption width="640"] Scott Tom plead not guilty to the Black Friday charges in a Manhattan court room on Friday.[/caption] Almost six years after Black Friday, Absolute Poker founder Scott Tom has returned to the United States to face charges that he violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and was engaged in bank fraud and money laundering. Tom, now 37, voluntary arrived back in the United States on Thursday and after a brief hearing where he plead not guilty to the charges, was released on a $500,000 bond. Tom, along with 11 others, was indicted on April 15, 2011 as part of what became known as ‘Black Friday’ in the online poker industry. Tom’s lawyer, James Henderson, told Reuters that the case will ultimately be concluded via plea deal. "There's going to be a resolution in this case quickly," Henderson said. Another Absolute Poker employee and Tom’s step brother, Brent Beckley, served 14 months after pleading guilty to the bank and wire fraud charges. Rumors indicate Beckley may again be working in the offshore gaming world after joining BetOnline.com in a management capacity. Should Tom, who had been rumored to be living in Antigua since just after Black Friday, come to an agreement with prosecutors, he will be the 10th person charged on April 15, 2011 to resolve the charges. The only person named in the indictments that day that has yet to actually face the charges in some way is PokerStars founder Isai Scheinberg. Absolute Poker, which was the parent company of scandal-ridden UltimateBet, was the third largest online poker room in the world at the time of the shutdown. While PokerStars made U.S. customers whole almost immediately and then purchased Full Tilt Poker and supplied those customers with their funds, Absolute Poker and UltimateBet have never returned any funds to players who had a balance on Black Friday. In November, Paul Tate, the Director of Payments for PokerStars, also returned to the U.S. and plead guilty. After paying a small six-figure fine, he was released without having to serve jail time.
Updated March 26, 10:30 AM ET Nearly nine years after the United States Government Department of Justice charged the owners of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker with operating illegal gambling businesses, in what became known in the poker world as Black Friday, the final defendant has pleaded guilty. Isai Scheinberg, the 73-year-old founder of PokerStars, plead guilty on Wednesday to one count of operating an illegal gambling business. He now faces a maximum of five years in prison. [ptable zone="888poker"][ptable zone="Party Poker NJ"][ptable zone="Global Poker Article Ad"] “Ten years ago, this Office charged 11 defendants who operated, or provided fraudulent payment processing services to, three of the largest online poker companies then operating in the United States – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker – with operating illegal gambling businesses and other crimes. As Isai Scheinberg’s guilty plea today shows, the passage of time will not undermine this Office’s commitment to holding accountable individuals who violate U.S. law,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said. Scheinberg will be sentenced at a later date. "Mr. Scheinberg is pleased to put this matter behind him and that all charges other than violating the 1971 Gambling Act have been dropped. Notably, all PokerStars players were paid back immediately and Mr. Scheinberg played an important role in ensuring that all of the players from other sites were repaid as well," read a statement released by a representative of Scheinberg. In January, Scheinberg flew from Switzerland to New York City after negotiating with the U.S. government over the previous three months. During his first court appearance, federal prosecutor Olga Zverovich told a hearing that Scheinberg had been negotiating with the government and had an "agreement in principle" at the time. Scheinberg founded PokerStars in 2001 and grew the company into the largest online poker operator in the world. In the aftermath of Black Friday, the company continued to operate outside of the United States and eventually settled a civil lawsuit with the U.S. government by paying a $731 million fine. Scheinberg sold the company to a group lead by David Baazov in 2014 for $4.9 billion. The other 10 charged on Black Friday, Ray Bitar, Scott Tom, Brent Beckley, Nelson Burtnick, Paul Tate, Ryan Lang, Bradley Franzen, Ira Rubin, Chad Elie, and John Campos had all previously dealt with their charges.