Civil Forfeiture of Internet Gambling Funds Filed in Maryland
Since last summer, as part of a continuing investigation of illegal online gambling (“The Ghost Hand,” Feature, March 24), federal investigators in Maryland have seized more than $5 million from U.S. bank accounts tied to payment processors that allegedly transact business on behalf of offshore companies’ gambling web sites. Yesterday a civil forfeiture lawsuit filed by the U.S. Attorneys Office in Baltimore was docketed, moving the seizures into a new phase as the government seeks a judge’s approval of the government’s desire to take ownership of most of the seized funds.
The forfeiture action, which does not specify the amount of money at stake, goes after funds seized from bank accounts of four payment processors: Electracash, HMD, Forshay Enterprises, and Direct Channel. As with all civil forfeiture cases, anyone who believes they have an interest in the money is free to file a claim with the court, asking for its return.
City Paper covered most of the seizures as they occurred: here, here, here, and here. Funds seized from accounts held by another payment processor, Atrium Financial Group, are not mentioned in yesterday’s forfeiture action.
Most of the evidence supporting the seizures remains secret, filed in investigators’ affidavits that judges have put under seal. The forfeiture filing doesn’t shed new light on the investigation. It includes a declaration written by M. Lisa Ward, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who has written some of the sealed seizure affidavits.
Ward discloses that the seized money is alleged to have been derived from gambling on numerous web sites. She specifically mentions Bodog (which offers casino games, sports betting, horse-race wagering, and poker) and three sites dedicated to poker: PokerStars, FullTilt, and Absolute Poker. The funds subject to forfeiture, she writes, were transmitted from “Canada, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and elsewhere,” into the seized accounts.
The forfeiture is the latest development in the investigation, which began in 2006 by looking at Bodog’s dealings and has since focused on seizing payment processors’ funds. The only known criminal charges that have resulted from the probe were filed against Edward Courdy and Michael Garone in 2008, when they were accused of money laundering. In the past, Courdy had an ownership stake in Electracash.