FBI Ruse ‘Eviscerated’ Gambler’s Rights

     LAS VEGAS (CN) – The FBI violated a gambler’s rights when it cut Internet service to his hotel room and posed as repairmen to gather evidence for a search warrant, a federal judge ruled.
     U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon on Friday threw out evidence the FBI gathered by posing as Internet repairmen after having the Internet service provider for Caesars Palace shut off DSL service to Wei Seng “Paul” Phua’s hotel room.
     “This is an extremely important decision for anyone who values their privacy,” Phua’s attorney David Chesnoff said in a statement. “Government agents trampled on Mr. Phua’s rights throughout their investigation.”
     Constitutional attorney Thomas Goldstein called it “a monumental ruling protecting American’s privacy in the modern age.”
     The attorneys’ statements are supported by Judge Gordon’s no-nonsense summary of the case.
     “This case tests the boundaries of how far the government can go when creating a subterfuge to access a suspect’s premises. Here, the government disrupted the internet service to the defendant’s hotel room in order to generate a repair call,” Gordon wrote in the April 17 ruling. “Government agents then posed as repairmen to gain access to the defendant’s room and conduct a surreptitious search for evidence of an illegal sports betting operation. By creating the need for a third party to enter defendant’s premises and then posing as repairmen to gain entry, the government violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.”
     Phua is a professional poker player and businessman from Malaysia. Allowing the FBI to conduct the ruse it did “would eviscerate the warrant requirement” of the Fourth Amendment, which would be “contrary to ‘the very core'” of the Amendment, the judge wrote.
     An investigator for Caesars Palace suspected Phua of running an illegal betting operation on the World Cup soccer tournament from his hotel villa and two others in June and July 2014, Gordon wrote in the ruling.
     The casino investigator interviewed Caesars Palace workers who had entered the villas and saw several computers displaying what looked like betting odds and “resembled a boiler room bookie operation,” Gordon wrote.
     The investigator gave the information to the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the board gave the information to the FBI, which conducted a joint investigation.
     The FBI interviewed the owner of the Internet service provider and “developed a plan to disrupt DSL service” to two villas by having FBI agents pose as repairmen and search the villas when they got in.
     After service was disrupted, the residents of one villa asked the casino for a laptop computer on July 4, and two FBI agents with hidden cameras posed as service technicians to deliver it but were denied entry by the villa’s butler. Instead of leaving, Gordon said, the agents entered anyway until the butler made them leave.
     The Internet service provider shut off service to Phua’s villa the next morning, and two FBI agents posing as repairmen entered the villa despite knowing that service could be restored only from outside, Gordon wrote.
     “The ruse’s only purpose was to gain entry … and gather evidence without a warrant,” Gordon said.
     After gathering evidence inside, including witnessing illegal sports betting, Gordon said, the agents called the Internet service provider, which remotely restored the service. The agents stayed in the room pretending to check the computers to see that Internet service had been restored.
     Then the agents used facts they got during their illegal entry to obtain a search warrant for all three villas on July 9, and seized evidence.
     The FBI on July 14 charged Phua with transmission of wagering information and operating an illegal gambling business.
     Phua filed two motions to suppress the evidence, which Gordon granted, but the complaint is still active.
     Neither defense attorneys nor a Department of Justice spokesperson could be reached for comment over the weekend.

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