Saturday, October 06, 2007

San Antonio Bookmaking Investigation Might Mean $2M Hit for Lee

[Cal here, on weekend duty---]

It's been about a year since news of Richard Lee's troubles with San Antonio authorities first made news in the poker world. Lee, you might remember, was the 50-ish poker player from Texas who finished sixth at the 2006 World Series of Poker. Lee was the second player from that final table to face legal/financial difficulties in the days and weeks following the big payday. While Jamie Gold faced a lawsuit from Crispin Leyser seeking half of Gold's $12 million win, Lee's troubles were of a different sort, as in a highly publicized raid, San Antonio police swooped in on Lee's suburban San Antonio home.

Lee's home, one of several targeted during the sweep, was identified as the "nerve center" of what was alleged to be the San Antonio area's largest bookmaking/sportsbetting operation, with Lee as the ringleader. Not only was Lee supposedly enriched through a network of local bet-taking runners, he was also, according to the investigation, secretly in charge of an Internet wagering site based in the Caribbean. The domain registration information for the site made no mention of Lee, nor of anyone within the States, but the San Antonio cops and prosecutors insisted that the "Chinaman," as Lee was reportedly known, was their man.

The haul from the raid netted lots of goodies, too. Besides the high-end cars, jewelry, computers and the like seized from Lee's and the others' homes, there were reports of a currency counting machine (!) and a check with "gambling" written in the memo line from a reported customer of the bookie operation. Also seized were the entire contents of Lee's post-WSOP bank account, which was about $2.7 million. (Lee won $2.8 million in the tourney.)

It took quite a while for the investigation to work through to charges, but Lee and the four others so far identified now face at least a single charge of "gambling promotion" --- it's a misdemeanor with a maximum of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. But that doesn't tell the real story here: District Attorney Susan Reed had already filed the paperwork for civil forfeitures, attempting to claim that Lee's $2.7 million in the bank, although clearly connected to the WSOP payday, was still the fruits of his other, "ill-gotten" labors.

Reports in the local San Antonio papers suggest that Reed, the prosecutor, wants 80% of the money and the value of the seized items in the case in order to go ahead with just the single misdemeanor charges against the five defendants, including Lee. The total value of what seized from the other four (one of whom is Lee's son-in-law) comes to about $350,000, with one of the four having no assets whatsoever connected to the case. But assuming that some of the cars and other property in the case are also Lee's, that could bring the total of his assets seized to about $3 million, suggesting that the prosecutors are looking for about $2.4 million in order to let Lee's part in the case be plea-bargained away.

Sick business, all of it.

For his part, Lee was reported in the local reports as having amassed his pre-WSOP worth from the selling of diamonds and the importing of silver from Mexico, though the investigation was unable to prove that he'd ever held an "official" job in recent years. Clearly, despite Lee's protestations of innocence --- he quipped, following the raid, that he'd "gone from hero to zero in a few hours" --- his own inability to adequately explain his financial self-sufficiency didn't pass the smell test, either. Nice digs, ritzy cars, and $10,000 poker-event buyins? All without a job?

That's why Lee was being investigated in the first place, of course; the incidental timing of his big win at the WSOP just made it a much more news-friendly case. The site reportedly connected to Lee, (the "bsb" stood for "Box Seat Betting"), disappeared quickly from public view, though password-secured pages remain in place to this day. The site, though, is officially reported as offline and has long since been added to the list of "red-flagged" operations by those who track such businesses. Lee himself has disappeared from public view as well, though the next few weeks will likely bring him into news view one more time, as in whether he accepts the 80% hit to his net worth as a condition of not doing extended time.

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