A Brief Look at Crime 7/05 – 7/11

Companies accused of illegal gambling donate $350K to PACs tied to Missouri lobbyist 

A pair of companies suing the state to block a crackdown on unregulated slot machines combined this week to drop $350,000 into six political action committees tied to a controversial lobbyist. According to disclosures filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission this week, Torch Electronics and Warrenton Oil made a series of donations to MO Majority PAC, Missouri Growth PAC, Missouri C PAC, Missouri Senior PAC, Missouri AG PAC and Conservative Leaders of Missouri.

Each PAC has ties to Steve Tilley, a lobbyist and former state lawmaker who is a fundraiser and close adviser to Gov. Mike Parson. Torch cut eight checks, each for $33,333. All were reported this week. Warrenton Oil cut seven checks, each for $13,000. Tilley’s lobbying firm represents Torch, which owns games that operate like slot machines in locations around the state.

The Missouri Gaming Commission has deemed them gambling devices, which are prohibited outside of licensed casinos, and the state highway patrol considers them illegal. Several local prosecutors are also pursuing criminal charges against the companies that own and house the machines.

Poker Player Dennis Blieden Sentenced to 6.5 Years for Stealing $22 Million

Poker player Dennis Blieden, 31, was sentenced to 79 months in prison on Wednesday for embezzling $22 million from a digital marketing and talent agency that looked after social media influencers. In February 2018, the Cincinnati native won the World Poker Tour’s LA Poker Classic for $1 million. But those winnings were just a drop in the ocean compared with the money he had already stolen from his employer, Hollywood-based StyleHaul Inc. Blieden was the VP of accounting and finance for StyleHaul from October 2019 and had control of its bank accounts. According to an internal SyleHaul memo filed by prosecutors, in 2017 alone he embezzled $15 million.

He did this by wiring cash to his personal account, while creating fake accounting records and bogus Western Union letters so it would appear money was going to clients. Prosecutors said this allowed him to live out a fantasy elite-poker lifestyle, entering the biggest tournaments, playing in the biggest cash games, and rubbing shoulders with players he’d previously only idolized on TV. And he curried favor with his new friends by backing them in tournaments. He issued more than $1 million in checks to other players, according to court filings.

Donor to Nebraska anti-gambling campaign will pay record-breaking late filing fee

An Ohio-based group that poured more than $2.3 million into fighting Nebraska’s casino gambling measures last fall will pay a record-breaking fee for missing a campaign finance report deadline. But the fee would have been 10 times larger if not for action by the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission last week. Commission members voted 6-3 at their June 4 meeting to grant a request for relief from Collective Prosperity. They reduced the fee to $23,130, down from the original $231,300 that was determined by a formula in state law. The reduced amount is still the largest fee ever imposed for filing a single campaign finance report late, according to Frank Daley, the commission’s executive director.

Former Employee Sentenced for Stealing Money from Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas

A federal judge sentenced 50-year-old Eduardo Riojas Villarreal of San Antonio to 21 months in federal prison yesterday for stealing money from the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas (Kickapoo). In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Court Judge Alia Moses ordered Villarreal to pay $167,109.41 in restitution to the Kickapoo and be placed on supervised release for a period of three years after completing his prison term. On September 9, 2019, Villarreal pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement and theft from Indian organizations.  According to court documents, Villarreal served as an accounts payable manager for the Kickapoo for approximately four years beginning in April 2017.  During that time, Villarreal wrote fraudulent checks payable to his wife from the Kickapoo general operating account, which is funded primarily by revenue from the Lucky Eagle Casino. He deposited those checks into his own personal bank account.  Villarreal admitted there was no legitimate basis for issuing these checks and that his wife knew nothing about his scheme.

Betting firms won £1.3m in stolen money from gambling addict

Betting firms won £1.3m in stolen money from a gambling addict without establishing where the funds came from, it has emerged, reigniting concern about whether firms do sufficient due diligence on punters who lose large sums. Andy May, 44, was sentenced at Norwich crown court on Monday to four years for fraud after admitting siphoning funds from the clothing company where he was a senior manager earning more than £50,000 a year. According to betting records seen by the Guardian, May placed thousands of bets, some with stakes of more than £50,000, with companies including Betfair, Betway, and BoyleSports.

The companies gave him incentives such as free bets and tickets to race meets, football and rugby matches, details obtained via a subject access request show. But they did little to check he could afford his habit, or find out where the money came from, until he had racked up huge losses. May funded his gambling by stealing more than £1.3m from the outdoor clothing company Sealskinz, the court heard, spending almost all of it with online gambling firms.

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