A week ago, Bitar, CEO of Full Tilt Poker, surrendered to U.S. authorities in New York City, only to find a superseding indictment with new charges awaiting him. He was arraigned that afternoon, pleading not-guilty to all counts. Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman, despite the government’s motion to deny bail, agreed to grant bail but based on a much greater scale than was recommended by Pre-trial services. Despite pleas from the defense, Freeman ordered Bitar held in custody while his friends and family took steps to guarantee the increased bond. The new requiremnets were bail of $ 2.5 million (up from $ 250,000) , at least $ 1 million to be secured. Because of the Independance Day holiday mid-week, both sides assumed it could take up to a week to accomplish gathering the correct documents, vetting the up to five financially responsible persons involved in guaranteeing for him, and verifying clear title to any real property that was to be used for bond. Last Friday, when Ray Bitar’s family and friends posted the bail sanctioned by Judge Freeman, including $ 280,000 in cash, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed an appeal in support of detention. District court Judge Paul Engelmayer heard the appeal Friday and voiced that, while he felt that denying bail for Bitar was not called for in this case, it should ultimately be decided by Judge Lewis Kaplan, who has been the judge overseeing the entire criminal case since its inception. Engelmayer, noting that Kaplan would be back on the bench today following his vacation, ruled that Bitar should remain in custody over the weekend pending Kaplan’s return.
Kaplan took the bench at 2 pm today, and immediately stated that, as he has always done in the past when a defendant in his court was represented by an attorney from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP , he would be recusing himself from all future proceedings as to defendant Bitar. Earlier in his career, Kaplan spent many years with the firm and routinely recuses himself to avoid all appearances of any conflict. Because the superseding indictment named Bitar and also Nelson Burtnick, another named defendant from Full Tilt, Kaplan agreed to entertain any motions for severance for the two defendants, which would keep the case against Burtnick in his courtroom at such time that Burtnick is present to face charges. Burtnick is still considered a fugitive since he was named in the original indictment in April 2011. Bitar’s bail hearing was sent back to Judge Engelmayer’s court, where it was heard late this afternoon.
By the time Engelmayer took the bench to hear the bail vs. detention argument, the govermnment and defense had reached an agreement as to acceptable terms. U.S. Attorney Lisa Zornberg itemized the conditions under which both sides had agreed, defense attorney Jack Baughman agreed on the record, as did Bitar, and Engelmayer formally accepted the bail package as amended.
The new conditions require the aforementioned $ 2.5 million bond, of which $280,000 cash and $ 715,000 in real property act as security. The remaining balance was made up by a warehouse that Bitar owns in California. Bitar is also required to surrender all travel documents and agree not to apply for any new ones. He must also make detailed financial disclosures of all his assets, something that Engelmayer had already noted as lacking in last weeks hearing. Bitar must remain in New York City for 48 hours while he completes the asset disclosures. He will then be permitted to travel only to the Eastern nd Southern Districts of New York and Central District of California, where he will be residing. Finally, not only will Bitar have to take part on strict pre-trial screenings, he will also be required to submit to electronic monitoring, which will fall under the auspices of the central district of California.
Engelmayer took great pains to remind Bitar that his bail restrictions are to be taken very seriously. He pointed out that the charges currently facing Bitar could be quite substantive in potential prison time if he were convicted, but to also note that if Bitar were to not show up for court, or to flee that he would face another felony charge. As to completing his financial disclsoure documents, the court reminded Bitar that not being truthful on the disclosures would legally be the equivalent of lying to federal authorities, which would be yet another federal crime.
Bitar, dressed in prison scrubs, looking tired but relieved, stood and told the judge he understood the warnings and agreed to the conditions.
The government confirmed that they passed a significant portion of discovery to the defense today. No date has been set for Bitar’s next visit to the courthouse and no new judge has yet been assigned to hear his case.