Garden City Group, the company hired by the US Attorneys Office to handle the remissions process for victims of the fraud that kept them from their Full Tilt Poker balances before the company changed hands, is not necessarily entitled to a passing grade for their actions in dealing with those victims to date. They have given out erroneous information, both by phone and in writing, and no one in power at the company is willing to discuss those errors. They have however, recently begun to backtrack and take steps to correct their mistakes.
According to a press release by the US Attorneys Office in the Southern District of New York on March 13, 2013, Garden City Group was hired to facilitate the remissions process for the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Services division of the Department of Justice and are responsible for processing the remissions claims based on parameters set by the AFMLS.
Sadly, as well known as they are in their own community, Garden City embarked upon communicating with the potential victims only months later, when they reported that the remissions process was beginning. Such process began on September 16,2013 and will close on November 16, 2013. Since that time, GCG has advised some possible claimants that they are not eligible to submit a petition. That was wrong, anyone can submit a petition. There are certain categories that will be denied remissions once the petitions are reviewed (this should not be happening prior to the bar date, November 16, 2013). Some of those that could face issues are “affiliates”. While GCG has refused to clarify what parameters will be used to determine who has that dreaded “affiliate” status, they have, in writing and by phone, advised some potential claimants that they are not eligible, that they have already been tagged as an “affiliate” based on information from the original Full Tilt Poker. While their customer service support people were matter-of-factly telling legitimate players that they had no chance to collect remissions, they never bothered to check whether whatever data they were working from was correct. After many phone calls and other contacts with the folks that really make the decisions, GCG has finally agreed to look for aid in deciphering the data outside of their own kingdom. Since that time, they have regrouped and made at least some concessions, without ever having admitted to their mistakes.
To the innocent, legitimate players that were mistakenly tagged as an affiliate, they should be making their claims just like any other, and affirming, if true, that they were not in fact, affiliates. To those that agree that they were receiving affiliate compensation, and have been tagged as such, they are now being advised to make a claim, the amount of which will be their playing balance only, that is, any deposits of affiliate payments will be deducted.
GCG’s newest update includes the following:
NOTICE TO AFFILIATES OF FULL TILT POKER It has been determined that Affiliates of Full Tilt Poker (“FTP”) will be able to submit Petitions for Remission to recover the portion of their account balances that does not relate to their Affiliate status. Affiliate accounts have been flagged as such because the player signed up with FTP as an Affiliate. If you are an Affiliate, you will be able to submit a Petition for the portion of your account balance that relates to poker transactions, as long as you meet the eligibility criteria. GCG is in the process of receiving updated data from FTP concerning Affiliates’ accounts. Once GCG receives and completes its review of the data, we will email all Affiliates of record to provide instructions for the Petition process and provide log in credentials for online filing. You will then have 30 days to submit a Petition. The filing process for Affiliates will not delay the processing or payment of other Petitions for Remission.
Reportedly, people at GCG have started to make phonecalls to those people that are marked as affiliates. Once again, no one there is able to clarify what an “affiliate” means for purposes of this action.
The Biggest “Problem Affiliates”
When considering telling the community about which affiliates might not be entitled for remission, the following probably are the root of the issue:
- Companies/individuals that agreed to receive their affiliate compensation via poker player accounts, even if they never played a hand of poker.
- Companies that agreed to receive their affiliate compensation via poker player accounts, even if ONE OR MORE MEMBERS OF THE COMPANY PLAYED POKER TOO, although in SOME instances, the poker portion of the account balance may be recoverable if it can be shown to have been thru actual game play. In some instances, these types of payments to accounts totaled high 4 to 5 figures on a regular basis.
- Individuals that received compensation from FTP for anything other than poker play and had such compensation deposited in their player accounts. This means loans, gifts, salaries, distribution payments, bonuses, company buy-ins to live tournaments (when such buy-ins were not won in legitimate poker satellites),”favors”, hourly wages for online play, funds used to cover other “liabilities”, etc .
- Individuals masking themselves as affiliates/companies to receive kickback payments, some of which were deposited into their player accounts. Individuals that received such payments transferred from other player accounts.
- Super affiliates – Those companies that, as affiliates, were noted as ones that could steer substantial business to or away from FTP on their whim.
This author has been able to identify some claimants that fit into each of the above categories, so certainly Garden City and the DOJ should be able to as well. Legitimate affiliates should have always been paid by invoice and labeled as a vendor/merchant to receive valid commission payments, assuming they operated legally. Some were, others opted to open “player accounts” just to collect such commissions.
Player accounts were to be used for funds for playing poker. The remission process is to compensate victims, ie players, that were denied access to their poker playing funds in their player accounts. Those claimants that fit into the above categories have no basis to file for remission, and the basis of the problems affecting any legitimate player that is being marked into one of these categories is mostly caused by the shortcuts and shenanigans of those using the player accounts to hide funds that should have been dealt with in another way. Legitimate players that received small compensation for referrals, such as refer-a-friend, are being penalized by the actions of these others and were never meant to be included in any exemption from remission.
For those referral companies that opted to receive their compensation via player accounts, it’s unclear whether they will have any recourse. Sources have confirmed that US authorities have taken the stance that affiliates can not legally (by US law) drive U.S. business to an unlicensed offshore company. All the same laws that DOJ has used against poker companies and payment processors and others could be applied.
More Exceptions Yet to Be Clarified
Other areas that GCG have noted for eligibility are:
- You must be a United States citizen or you must have resided in the United States at the time of playing on the FTP gaming site.
- You did not receive compensation as a foreign FTP player in connection with the PokerStars Settlement.
- You must have deposited funds into an account with FTP.
- Your account with FTP must reflect a balance owed by FTP to you as of April 15, 2011.
- You are excluded from participation in the remission process if you are:
- A past or present employee of FTP or any of its past or present affiliates;
- A past or present Team Full Tilt player;
- A past or present shareholder of FTP, Tiltware LLC, Kolyma Corporation A.V.V., Pocket Kings Ltd., Pocket Kings Consulting Ltd., Filco Ltd., Vantage Ltd., Ranston Ltd., Mail Media Ltd., or Full Tilt Poker Ltd.;
- A past or present officer or director of FTP, Tiltware LLC, Kolyma Corporation A.V.V., Pocket Kings Ltd., Pocket Kings Consulting Ltd., Filco Ltd., Vantage Ltd., Ranston Ltd., Mail Media Ltd., or Full Tilt Poker Ltd., or any of their past or present affiliates;
- A defendant in any civil action or a claimant in any forfeiture action brought by the Department of Justice related to the violations alleged in this action, or any related action (or any of his or her affiliates, assigns, heirs, distributees, spouses, parents, children, or controlled entities); or
- A person who, as of the Bar Date, has been the subject of criminal charges related to the violations alleged in this action, or any related action (or any of his or her affiliates, assigns, heirs, distributees, spouses, parents, children, or controlled entities).
With the above recent update, they at least have started trying to put out some information. This happened only after an internal memo was leaked to the outside. In addition, this newer update has made some changes as to their labeling of sponsored players, now only listed as “Team Full Tilt” players. Sadly, many representatives I spoke to at GCG don’t have any idea what any of the above means.
Furthermore and for example, they have no idea about what should be happening with claims for limbo funds (even after having received an explantion of what that means). There have been reports that representatives have told players that called in that those players would have to chase down the payment processors on their own. Some representatives had no idea what “rakeback” is, and when explained to them, they still asserted that this would qualify the player as ineligible. They claim not to have a list of any persons that were defendants in legal actions brought by the DOJ, or those that are the subject of any criminal charges related to the violations alleged. Another doesn’t know whether present employees of the new Full Tilt will be eligible, even though it’s a different company.
The Keystone Cops
Between April 15 and today, this author has had 66 phone calls with Garden City Group regarding outstanding questions and mistakes they have made. On more than 60 occasions, I was told that I would receive a call back from the project management team. On ONE occasion, a woman from marketing called me back. She did not have any idea about anything to do with this claim process or the FTP business at all.
On one occasion, a customer service rep told me FTP used to be in France, and that’s why our money was missing.
I called as a player one day and not a journalist. I asked a simple question about whether a withdrawal that was never received would be added back to an account balance for payment. I gave the representative my correct name and she proceeded to tell me that the $3300. I withdrew on April 12 was back in my account now then proceeded to tell me what the exact balance on the account was. It was in excess of $22,0000. My account actually has less than $ 100. She gave me all of someone else’s information and was about to ask me if my address in a certain state was correct when I had to stop her. Up until this time, representatives had told callers that they did not have access to direct account information.
On another occasion, I asked how many calls had come in on that particular day to a customer service rep. She told me she would need to have someone call me back, so I explained, no, what I wanted to know was if she had received a lot of calls that day, she still said she would have to have someone call me back. I asked her in which of the GCG offices she was working, she claimed that someone would have to call me back. Finally I asked if today (that day) was her first day on the job. After hesitating for a full minute and putting me on hold, she said no.
I asked another representative on another date who the “special master” was that was assigned to this case. He told me has a lot of bosses but they don’t call them that.
As late as last week, I was told a member of the project management team was on the way to the phone to finally speak to me on the record. The supervisor I spoke to told me I was free to publish his name because he was sure I would be made happy with the phonecall. I am still waiting (probably a fake name anyway).
To those GCG employees that are misleading players calling in for information, please do not ask them to commit perjury. Please stop telling them to make up false social security numbers to file their claims. Please stop discussing personal information regarding account balances and SSN’s and email addresses with anyone that calls you without asking for any verificatioms. Please stop telling them whatever you think will make them happy especially if you know it’s not true.
Please do not give access to the “petition denied” key to anyone who doesn’t know what state they are working in.
It’s perfectly acceptable for any business to tell a patron that they do not know the answer but will get back to them. Expecting someone to make that callback in less than six months is probably not asking too much.