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Costigan Media Requests Response by July 16 Re: Poker Funds Seizure

Written by:
Jagajeet Chiba
Published on:
Jul/08/2009

The parent company of Gambling911.com has requested an accelerated briefing schedule in regard to its Motion to Intervene and unseal a seizure warrant related to funds tied to Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars.  Costigan Media legal counsel has asked that the US Attorneys office in the Southern District of New York respond to its Motion no later than July 16.  

On June 2, 2009, Magistrate Judge Katz granted the government's application for a seizure warrant of $30 million.  The face of the warrant indicates that the money was seized as part of a civil forfeiture proceeding related to illegal gambling.  The seized amount belongs to an entity that processes funds for online poker sites.  Although the warrant was issued over a month ago and funds are safely in control of the U.S. Government and in no danger of dissipation, the affidavit in support of the warrant application still remains under seal as do any supporting documents related to the Court's decision to seal the warrant application. 

Costigan Media/Gambling911.com exercises its First Amendment right to have the seizure warrant and other court documents unsealed in its efforts to properly report on the ongoing investigation related to these online poker payment processors and potentially the two poker rooms they service, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars. 

"We consulted with the AUSA (Assistant U.S. Attorney) Jeffrey Alberts, who has advised us that the government will not agree to the proposed schedule (of July 16th)," Costigan Media legal counsel, Barach Weiss, wrote in his letter.  "Instead he has proposed that the government have until July 20."

Costigan Media/Gambling911.com believes the July 20 date is too prolonged, thus resulting in the request of an accelerated briefing schedule.  

In his letter, Mr. Weiss cites several First Amendment references as to why the accelerated schedule is so important.  He also noted that Costigan Media's request for acceleration is more generous than those matters cited.

The civil seizure warrant, signed by United States Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz, recited that an Affidavit was sworn to before the Court by Dana Conte (the "Conte Affidavit"), a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and that Special Agent Conte "has reason to believe that the funds specified in the above-captioned bank account are subject to seizure and civil forfeiture pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 981(a)(1)(A) and (C), 981(b), 984, and 1955." The seizure warrant issued by Magistrate Judge Katz stated, "I am satisfied that there is probable cause to believe that the property so described is subject to seizure and civil forfeiture" pursuant to the referenced statutes.

So what exactly is 18 U.S.C. § 981?

18 U.S.C. § 981 is the federal civil forfeiture statute.  Subsections (a)(1)(A) and (C) describe offenses that are predicate acts for civil forfeiture.  Subsection (b) describes the procedure for obtaining a seizure warrant to effectuate the civil forfeiture.  18 U.S.C. § 1955 makes it a federal crime to conduct a gambling business when, among other conditions, the gambling is illegal under "the law of the State ... in which it is conducted."

Mr. Weiss served as the assistant general counsel for enforcement at the Treasury Department, and as the acting deputy general counsel at Homeland Security.

Mr. Weiss recently won a historic victory in the foremost First Amendment case prosecuted by the Justice Department, the so-called "AIPAC Espionage Act case," brought against two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The prosecution constituted, in the words of the editorial page of The Washington Post, a "dangerous aggrandizement of the government's power" in its efforts to impose secrecy in the name of national security on private citizens. For years, the case had been the subject of numerous editorials and opinion pieces in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and other major newspapers. 

Jagajeet Chiba, Gambling911.com 

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