In a federal courtroom in New York city today, Judge Loretta Preska accepted a guilty plea from Ray Bitar and sentenced him to time served.
Exactly two years since Black Friday, Ray Bitar appeared in the courtroom via a live video stream from a courtroom in Los Angeles. Judge Preska ran the proceedings from New York with U.S. Attorney Arlo Devlin-Brown and Niketh Velamoor present along with Bitar’s attorney Jack Baughman. In Los Angeles, Bitar was flanked by attorneys Roberto Finzi and Steven Jacobs.
Bitar entered the courtroom on his own, but was allowed to remain seated during the proceedings. His family and a few friends were visible in the gallery.
Preska got right to the matter at hand quickly. Bitar, 41, was asked if he was agreeing to plead guilty to two felony counts, and he agreed. Count one: Violation of UIGEA, carrying a potential maximum sentence of 5 years, followed by probation of up to 3 years, and Count 2: Conspiracy to commit bank and wire fraud, carrying a potential maximum sentence of 30 years with probation following release for up to 5 years. While defense and prosecution agreed that sentencing guidelines, based on Bitars lack of criminal history, would warrant a sentence of 78-97 months in prison, Judge Preska still had discretion to sentence Bitar to the maximum 35 years.
After answering all questions put to him, Bitar was then asked to allocate to the court exactly what crimes he committed. He read from a prepared statement admitting that he was a senior executive at Full Tilt Poker since 2003 , that he (and others) worked with payment processors and banks and that he and others acknowledged disguising the transactions to those banks. He further admitted that he and others told Full Tilt customers that their funds were “safe and secure” and in segregated bank accounts. he then admitted that the funds were not in segregated accounts, and that over time, “safe and secure” was an inaccurate statement, and although he knew that, he never advised his customers. He went on to say that he regretted his actions, that he knew they were wrong and illegal, and that he was very sorry.
Judge Preska accepted his guilty plea and she further agreed, as moved by the defense, to expedited sentencing.
In considering sentencing, Bitar’s attorney, Jack Baughman, asked the court to sentence Bitar to time served due to his severe heart failure. Bitar’s doctors have said that his only chance for survival is to obtain a human heart transplant (or an artificial heart) and that being sentenced to any prison time at all would clause Bitar to become ineligible to be placed on a transplant waiting list. The Bureau of Prisons has apparently advised that they would not be capable of providing him the care he would need to survive. He advised that Bitar agreed to forfeit nearly everything he owns, including most all the money made while at Full Tilt Poker, $ 40 million, along with homes and other property, including the house that Bitar lives in now.
The prosecution stood to remind the court that of all the Black Friday defendants, that they feel Bitar is the most culpable, but because the Bureau of Prisons cannot provide appropriate care and because even the possibility of prison could prevent a transplant from happening, the government will not oppose a sentence that included no jail time.
When it was the Judge’s turn to speak, she did say that there was little doubt that the crimes Bitar was pleading guilty to warranted a substantial sentence, but sentencing in the case that is far from the norm is warranted due only to Bitar’s severe medical condition.
She then agreed to sentence Bitar to time served, which amounts to the 7 days spent in the Manhattan Detention Center in July 2012 while awaiting his bail hearing after his surrender. Other counts were then dismissed against Bitar, and the Judge wished him luck.
Bitar could be seen grabbing his attorneys hand in relief, and he thanked the Judge and his family and the few personal friends that have stuck by him during a difficult time.
Jack Baughman offered the following statement:
“Mr. Bitar is very grateful to Judge Preska for her understanding of the very unusual nature of the situation and for her compassion. Mr Bitar is very sorry for what happened at Full Tilt Poker and he hopes that all players will be repaid in full as soon as possible. If there is anything that he can do to assist in the repayment process, he is happy to do so.
Now that the Full Tilt Poker experience is behind him, Mr.Bitar is turning his attention to the extremely difficult personal challenges that he faces in the months and years ahead.”
Bitar will meet with medical officials in California on May 6 to decide if they now can find him eligible for a cardiac transplant.