Online poker "payment processor" admits U.S. charges

NEW YORK Mon May 23, 2011 3:44pm EDT

Chips and cards are shown on a poker table during the first day of the 41st annual World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event at the Rio hotel-casino in Las Vegas, Nevada July 5, 2010. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

Chips and cards are shown on a poker table during the first day of the 41st annual World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event at the Rio hotel-casino in Las Vegas, Nevada July 5, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Illinois man admitted in federal court on Monday to helping large online poker websites dodge U.S. gambling laws by processing millions of dollars in payments from his home in Costa Rica and lying to banks about the nature of the transactions.

So-called "payment processor" Bradley Franzen, 41, pled guilty in New York to criminal charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and being part of operating an illegal gambling business. He faces a possible maximum prison term of 30 years.

Franzen was among 11 people whose indictment was announced by federal prosecutors in New York last month when authorities seized the Internet domain names for Absolute Poker, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars.

Prosecutors accused the companies and the people they hired into tricking regulators and banks into illegally processing $3 billion in payments.

Online gambling has been illegal in the United States since 2006. However, some U.S. lawmakers have talked recently about legalizing Internet gambling and regulating it.

Meanwhile, two new indictments were unsealed on Monday charging two businesses and three people with operating an illegal gambling business and money laundering, prosecutors said there.

As part of the case, 10 Internet sites were seized under a court order, including Bookmaker.com and Truepoker.com. Eleven bank accounts were also seized in the United States, Guam, Panama, Malta, Portugal and the Netherlands.

Those charged include ThrillX Systems Ltd, which was doing business as BetEd; K23 Financial Services, which was doing business as BMX Entertainment; Ann Marie Puig of Costa Rica, and Darren Wright and David Parchomchuk of Canada.

During the plea hearing in the New York case, Franzen, who is from Illinois and has a home in Costa Rica, told the court he was contacted by an Internet poker company in 2009.

"I was aware that most U.S. banks did not process the payments ... and I understood U.S. law prohibits it," Franzen said.

Asked by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox at the plea proceeding how much money was involved, Franzen said: "I do understand in general terms that it was millions of dollars, but I don't know how much."

He said he conducted most of his business from his residence in Costa Rica.

Franzen's lawyer, Sam Schmidt, declined to comment on the contents of what the judge described as "agreements and understandings" with the government that are contained in a May 10 letter.

Eight of those charged, including the three founders of the websites, are at large outside the United States.

The cases are USA v Tzvetkoff et al and USA v Franzen, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 10-336.

(Reporting by Grant McCool, additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; editing by Andre Grenon)

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