The government claims the defendants schemed to conceal gambling revenue through deceit and bribery.
The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday announced the indictment of 11 individuals involved with online poker websites on charges of bank fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling.
The defendants include the founders of the three largest Internet poker companies that do business in the US: Absolute Poker, Full Tilt Poker, and PokerStars. The government seized five Internet domain names associated with these companies.
The government alleges that the defendants engaged in an elaborate scheme to dupe or bribe banks to process gambling profits in violation of U.S. laws.
"Foreign firms that choose to operate in the United States are not free to flout the laws they don’t like simply because they can’t bear to be parted from their profits," said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement.
The 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act made it a crime for gambling businesses to knowingly accept most forms of payment for illegal Internet gambling. The defendants allegedly tried to circumvent these rules with the help of individual payment processors, also named as defendants, who helped disguise gambling revenue as payments to phony merchants selling non-existent goods such as jewelry or golf balls.
The scheme also allegedly involved bribing small banks to process payments in return for major investments in the banks, or buying the banks outright.
Two of the defendants were arrested in Nevada and Utah respectively. A third is expected to appear at his arrangement in New York next week. The other eight defendants named are presently outside the U.S. and have yet to be arrested.
The indictment seeks $3 billion in civil and forfeiture penalties and restraints on 76 bank accounts in 14 countries.
The last widely reported Internet domain seizure didn't go so well for the government. Following the seizure of 10 domain names in February for alleged involvement in child pornography, a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement acknowledged that a number of lawful websites had been temporarily disabled in the process.