We’ve seen the FBI and ICE seize websites in the past, though they were usually related to pirated or copyrighted material. Today, we get a different spin. The FBI has apparently seized four large online poker websites — PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, UB.com and Absolute Poker — claiming bank fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling offenses.
Visiting the FullTiltPoker site right now, you’re greeted with nothing more than a stern warning:
While online poker in the US has had a very rough road thus far, the charges that were brought up under todays indictment stem from some rather hefty charges. It is presumed that the site owners were running a scheme to set up bank accounts and transfer illegal gambling funds.
Interestingly, it is believed that the entire operation is due to the information provided from one Daniel Tzvetkoff. Tzvetkoff is credited with being the brains behind the payment systems used by online poker, before being arrested himself for the same charges that are today being brought against the sites.
But the story gets a bit more interesting. Tzvetkoff was arrested after having taken tens of millions of dollars from the businesses to which he provided the payment systems. However, after a meeting with prosecutors, he was released on bond.
The end result? Sites are shuttering as have 76 bank accounts in 14 countries. The parties involved are facing fines of up to $3 billion in money laundering fines. On top of that, all of the defendants are facing up to 5 years, and in some cases up to 30 years in prison as maximum sentences for their alleged crimes.
We’re getting reports that, for those people who are able to access the sites, some have been able to also withdraw funds. However, for many people, the sites are completely unavailable and thus the funds are locked down entirely. This appears to be related to DNS caching, and sites should continue to move over to the FBI warning page as the propagation occurs.
We’re also seeing some scattered reports that payout checks from Pokerstars have been bouncing. There is no word yet as to whether this is isolated or related to the current scenario, but we’re continuing to dig.
For now, if you have funds in any of the three sites, it would be in your best interest to try to get them out. Now.