Judge: FBI agents who exposed a World Cup gambling ring by pretending to be Internet repairmen acted unconstitutionally


Paul Phua Wei-seng

John Locher/AP

Paul Phua Wei-seng (pictured) and his son have been accused of operating an illicit World Cup gambling ring out of their Vegas hotel suite last July.

The FBI ruse that uncovered an illegal gambling ring late last year and led to the arrest of a high-profile Malaysian businessman was unconstitutional and violated the man's Fourth Amendment rights, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

Suspecting that three Caesars Palace villas in Las Vegas were hosting an illicit World Cup gambling ring last July, FBI agents sabotaged Darren Phua's Internet service with the help of a hotel Wi-Fi contractor so that they could enter his hotel suite posing as Internet repairmen and gather evidence against him - all without a warrant.

"This case tests the boundaries of how far the government can go when creating a subterfuge to access a suspect's premises." U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon said in a bluntly worded decision. "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" against unreasonable searches and seizures.


Authorities have characterized Phua as a top member of the Asian organized crime syndicate 14K triad, according to the AP, but because all of the evidence collected from his suite last year was the "fruits of an unconstitutional search," none of it will be admissible in court.

Prosecutors have argued that FBI agents did not violate Phua's rights because unlike heat, water, or electricity, Internet access is not even a fundamental service, let alone a constitutional right.

Phua, who is the son of a multimillionaire former Macau junket operator and world-ranking poker player Paul Phua Wei-seng, pleaded guilty in March to a lesser misdemeanor charge related to the transmission of gambling information, South China Morning Post reported.


Phua and his father may be let off, however, if prosecutors are unable to make a convincing enough case against the duo without using any of the evidence collected against them last July, which includes highly incriminating computer and phone records.

"We hope this will bring the case to a close," Phua's defense attorney Thomas Goldstein told AP. "The decision suppresses all the evidence that directly involves Mr. Phua."

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