Haley's Poker Blog

No bad beats, but still a poker blog... hence the anguish.

Friday, February 21, 2014

SWC Blogger Freeroll

Just a little note to say that I'm going to support SealsWithClubs owner Bryan Micon's latest promo effort, a half-Bitcoin freeroll for poker bloggers.  I may or may not be able to play, but I'll give SWC a little link love anyway:


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Plagiarism Shuffle: PokerUpdate's SLAPP C&D at PokerAddict

Author's note: I've moved this from its original posting location at FlushDraw.  Neither Ian or Paudie had anything to do with the publication of the piece there; it was mine and mine alone.  I've subsequently learned of additional legal threats, so I'm willfully moving this piece here, where it will stay up approximately until hell freezes over.  If Jamie and PokerUpdate want to sue me, well here I am. -- hh

One of those interesting stories about the inner workings of the poker world burst into public view for a brief time last week, involving a C&D (cease-and-desist) letter sent out on behalf of a site called PokerUpdate, which is connected also to PokerTube and an affiliate site called PokerVIP.

The notice was sent to writer John "PokerAddict" Mehaffey in response to a story and follow-up that Mehaffey published at 4Flush.com.  (Disclosure: Mehaffey's work also occasionally appears here at FlushDraw, though his work is featured predominantly at 4Flush and a couple of other sites.  This piece is an op-ed by me, without any input from Mehaffey or direct involvement in the situation.)

The original piece by Mehaffey (since deleted), complained about plagiaristic practices being employed by PokerUpdate in the production of content for their site.  PokerUpdate isn't much of a news site, and plagiarism complaints about it have been long-term and widespread.  Mehaffey is one of numerous legitimate writers whose work has been pilfered by PokerUpdate; they've swiped my stuff as well in the past.

Anyhow, Mehaffey recently discovered several pieces on PU -- oddly fitting, that acronym -- that were in essence cheap copy-and-pastes of several of Mehaffey's own pieces written for other sites.  Mehaffey had finally had enough, and wrote a piece called "PokerUpdate Wins Most Creative Copy Paster Award," at which he took a healthy swipe at PU's practice of swiping phrases, sentences and whole paragraphs from other people's work, and presenting them anew as PU content.

PU, and its boss, Jamie Nevin, didn't care too much for Mehaffey's journalistic insolence, and had a lawyer-in-a-box send off a cease-and-desist notice to Mehaffey on behalf of PU's corporate parent, both in regard to the Mehaffey protest against the plagiarism and against other pieces by Mehaffey against another squirrely enterprise of Nevin's, in which PokerVIP was actively linked to the surreptitious recruitment of American online poker players to play on international (non-US-facing) sites via VPN.

We also covered that story here at FlushDraw, though the actual news of how Nevin's PokerVIP site (specifically iPokerVIP as it related to the iPoker Network situation) was cracked down upon by the iPoker Network came first from other sites, when iPoker discovered the illicit American player ring participating on its network,

The smoke on that mess circled for quite a while before flaring into open flames.  The PokerVIP / VPN / Muchos Poker / Poker in Venice situation was discussed in a couple of private industry-only forums before any site reported on it, and eventually pokerfuse published a significant expose linking the iPoker crackdown to PokerVIP.

It appears that Nevin's SLAPP-based cease-and-desist against Mehaffey has regrettably worked to some extent, since either Mehaffey or 4Flush owner TJ has pulled down the story.  Oddly enough, the link now goes to an old an unrelated piece of mine over at 4Flush.

In addition, Mehaffey seems to have taken down other pieces of his that have portrayed Nevin and his business operations in a negative light, such as this one at Mehaffey's own PokerAddict.net site from last October, a piece called "PokerVIP and PokerUpdate Publish Unethical Article About PAS".  "PAS," or Poker Affiliate Solutions, is a competing affiliate operation to PokerVIP, and Mehaffey's piece detailed mudslinging tactics by PokerVIP in forum postings.

I've got the piece archived, even if it's no longer available; to me it's disappointing that Mehaffey pulled it down, but in the context of the larger situation over at 2+2, where Mehaffey serves as an unpaid moderator and PokerVIP buys advertising at that site, it's marginally understandable.

I'll just note for the record that I've had others take down things that I've written -- and heck, that's even a possibility here -- but that's always occurred over my protests.  (Note: In this case, I've voluntarily moved it; Ian and Paudie didn't ask me to.) I'll even happily send Jamie Nevin and/or his hired cartoony my address if he wants to send me a C&D; I could use the laughs.  And I will publish it if they send me anything.  Absolutely guaranteed.

Mehaffey chose not to publish the C&D in its entirety, for seemingly odd reasons.  In attempting to help close out the situation, Mehaffey even quoted some lawyer's press release claiming that a C&D itself might be protected by copyright.  That hilarious notion, published in a press release here, was quickly debunked by all sorts of legal experts.

What happened in the legal case this Dozier lawyer cited was a special circumstance where a copyright was filed in an underhanded attempt to unmask an anonymous critic, and the actual legality of the supposed C&D copyright or the opposing "fair use" doctrine was never even tested in court.  There's a lesson in that: Don't take a legal firm's press release at face value.

Which brings us back to Nevin and PokerUpdate.  The allegations as originally published by Mehaffey included the copy-and-pasting of paragraphs and sentences from several of his pieces into content at PU, without approval or proper attribution.  Those pieces have since been altered after the original author's name was removed; meanwhile, Mason Malmuth locked the thread at 2+2, censoring future commentary or not; as the owner he can do that.

However, what Mehaffey might not have known was that others were already on to the unethical journalistic practices at PokerUpdate.  I was working on my own expose of Ben Mezrich's horrid false story of the Absolute Poker situation, "Straight Flush," and as a part of my research I read all the early reviews of the book that were available.  And lo, and behold, a content rip-off by PU.

Here's the link to the NY Daily News review, and here's the link (target to which is likely to be deleted right soon!) to the PU rip-off, credited to writer "Firat Dural".  Just for the sheer joy of it, let's share some examples:

From the NYDN piece:
They were a band of frat brothers, just days away from reaping a billion dollars from their wild online poker enterprise. Then it all came crashing down. And their lives turned into a melee.

The story of the six is the subject of the new book, “Straight Flush,” and it’s by one of the coolest authors around, Ben Mezrich. His specialty is telling tales of reckless young men who make — or lose — a fortune by seizing a rogue opportunity that no one else has seen.
From PU:
In his latest book ´Straight Flush´, Ben Mezrich, one of the coolest authors around, wrote about the story of the six frat brothers who founded Absolute Poker in their basement. It is the story of a band of frat brothers who came very close to reaping a billion dollars from their wild online poker enterprise however it all came crashing down and their lives took a very dramatic turn.

NYDN:
Like Mark Zuckerberg. The movies “The Social Network” and “21” were based on Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires” and “Bringing Down the House.”  Normally his subjects are Ivy League types who make some audacious, if not criminal, moves.

PU:
His last books “The Accidental Billionaires” and “Bringing Down the House” also focused on Ivy League types, namely like Marc Zuckerberg, who make some audacious, if not criminal, moves.

NYDN:
Some of them grew up hardscrabble poor and only just made it to the University of Montana in Missoula. That’s where they came together in a fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

“One of them sold a cow to buy his first car,” Mezrich says. “That’s where they came from.”

... Scott Tom, who describes himself as “100% trailer park,” started it all. He grew up dirt poor...
PU:
It weren´t [SIC] all Ivy League types in “Straight Flush” though, some of these kids came from a very poor background. Scott Tom, who started it all, describes himself as “100% trailer park”. “One of them sold a cow to buy his first car,” Mezrich says. “That’s where they came from.”

They all finally made their way to to the University of Montana in Missoula and came together in a fraternity called Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
And on, and on, and on, in this piece and in many others, and now Nevin and PokerUpdate have threatened another writer for calling them on these practices.  Shameful.

Well, there's more than one way to skin a dead, stinkin' cat.  I've sent an e-mail to the NYDN, as follows:

Here's a poker site that has thinly rewritten a Times review; hilarious plagiarism.

Yours: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/mezrich-straight-flush-poker-biz-wild-article-1.1354022

Theirs: http://www.pokerupdate.com/news/entertainment/ben-mezrich-writes-the-history-of-absolute-poker-founders/

Since this site (and its owner Jamie Nevin), is now filing C&D's against sites that are pointing out its ongoing thefts of content, I say, "Sic' em."

Best,

Haley Hintze

This falls under the heading of "just desserts".  (Thanks to Phillip Martin's phillipmartin.info site for the image above, from his free-to-use clipart collection.)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Just Conjecturin', Volume 51: The Fraudulent Mezrich Book, Straight Flush

People who haven't checked out yet Ben Mezrich's laughably fraudulent "true story" of Absolute Poker, Straight Flush, have probably missed the thorough bashing its getting within the poker world, along with a few other select outlets, such as the review page for the farce over at Amazon.  I'm among the many who've reviewed it to to date, and I'll reprint my review here -- and fix a couple of typos along the way.  I wrote the initial review in a bit of a rush while traveling, and it shows.

I'd probably have dismissed the whole Mezrich book as a silly farce a month ago, if it wasn't so fraudulent, so false.  Had the story been even close to being true, I'd have congratulated Mezrich on a decent effort and moved on.  Instead, Mezrich has foisted upon the world what appears to be an image-remaking advertorial, possibly even subsidized by the AP frat boys themselves, complete with an extensive litany of literary sins I've since explored in a ten-part series at FlushDraw.com.

From falsifying timelines to denying post-UIGEA ownership to omitting key evidence, Straight Flush is a horror and a sham.  If ever a "true story" book was deserving of a class-action lawsuit for consumer fraud, this is it.  I expected a bad book; what shocked me was how terrible, how false, how lying it really was.  It's a situation that needs correcting, and that's why I continue to pursue the story, in the faint hope that a mainstream outlet might yet be willing to shine a cold spotlight onto Mezrich's fraud.  It's not a matter of being petty or vengeful; it's instead a heartfelt effort to set the record straight.

Anyhow, here's a slightly updated version of that Amazon review:

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Ben Mezrich's new book, Straight Flush, is a gigantic literary fraud foisted upon the reading public by an author with a decade-long history of fudging the details. This represents his most extreme effort in that regard, a bald and phony retelling of the Absolute Poker story from, as Mezrich himself disclaims, the "point of view" of the U. of Montana fratboys who founded the company. With a single deft phrase, Mezrich thus shields himself from the 300 pages of garbage he then proceeds to spew.

The problem is, the actions of those same fratboys were criminal, even if only one of them (Brent Beckley) currently sits in prison, while the primary founder, Beckley's stepbrother Scott Tom, remains on the Caribbean island of Antigua rather than face the charges still pending against him. In Straight Flush, Mezrich willingly recounts the fratboys' paper-thin lies while glorifying a decade or more of juvenile, sexist debauchery, punctuated by "amazonian" fantasies and re-imagined dialogue so horrific it could've come from an R-rated version of "The Secret Lives of Dobie Gillis" where all the women don't actually have names.

Mezrich's rapid discarding of any facts that don't fit his whitewashing of the AP tale represent the most horrid example of literary amorality to be published in recent years. Among the blatant omissions: detailed and irrefutable evidence regarding the cheating activities of Scott Tom,  utter disregard of Absolute Poker's other law-bending activities including the offering of online blackjack and the manipulation of the US banking system, and the publication by major Norwegian financial-news outlet Dagens Naeringsliv of a 2011 expose connected to Absolute Poker's ownership-hiding escapades, which included the revelation that Innovative Data Solutions (the AP customer-service business raided in 2011 by Costa Rican authorities) was -owned- by Scott Tom.

The Dagens Naeringsliv piece, based on months of investigative work by a DN business team that even traveled to Toronto to secretly tape an Absolute Poker board meeting, first published the stunning revelation that Scott Tom never left the company after all (contrary to the lies willingly spread by Mezrich in Straight Flush). Norwegian authorities subsequently launched the largest ever tax-fraud case in the country's history against an Absolute Poker ownership group through which paper profits were funneled, but you won't read about that here.

If you want to read juvenile fiction, Straight Flush is acceptable, but the book has no right to wear any sort of non-fiction label. For a high-quality examination, no better nor more accurate review of Straight Flush exists than that penned by James McManus for the Wall Street Journal after the book's release; McManus, who wrote Positively Fifth Street, is an exceptional writer with knowledge of the poker world).

Straight Flush is gaudy in its fraud.  Among the largest sins served up by Mezrich is his willingness to slap the readers directly in the face with his lies, confident that his audience won't care as he laughs his way to the bank.

In his story of how AP's founders disregarded a Caribbean back upon seeing the word "Loyal" in its name, believing that any bank that had to proclaim itself as "loyal" probably wasn't, Mezrich forgets the title of his own book: Straight Flush: The True Story of Six College Friends Who Dealt Their Way to a Billion-Dollar Online Poker Empire -- and How It All Came Crashing Down.

A "loyal" bank might not be loyal, and this supposed "true story" isn't even close to being true.

Just Conjecturin', Volume 50: Updated Index of Entries

At long last, time for some housekeeping.  Things are gearing up again, and it's a good time to get the old stuff in order.  Therefore, for easy access, here's a list of all 49-plus "Just Conjecturin'" posts, dealing with the UltimateBet and Absolute Poker insider cheating scandals, that have been published here to date.

Just Conjecturin', Volume 1

Just Conjecturin', Volume 2: Sebok Signing (w/ Update)

Just Conjecturin', Volume 2.5: Oh, Those UB Hand Histories

Just Conjecturin', Volume 3: The 56% Solution

Just Conjecturin', Volume 4: Inside the Excapsa Ownership Bloc

Just Conjecturin', Volume 5: If a Forrest is Silent, Does That Mean There Aren't Any Trees?

Just Conjecturin', Volume 6: More on Excapsa: The Missing 2.6 Million Forfeited Shares

Three supplemental entries connected to Barry Greenstein's early UB hand histories from the UB cheating days; Barry was among those who played against the cheating accounts.  These aren't great, and it turned out the HH's were doctored beforehand, so it was a wild goosechase before the good stuff rolled in in later posts.

Barry's HH's Part 1
Barry's HH's Part 2
Barry's HH's Part 3

Just Conjecturin', Volume 7: (Help Me, KevMath, Help Me... with this Numbering Mess)

Just Conjecturin', Volume 8: Make That the 83% Solution

Just Conjecturin', Volume 9: The 'Shut Up and Settle, Dammit' Scene

Just Conjecturin', Volume 10: Defaults and Dividends, Chorus #2

Just Conjecturin', Volume 11: Meanwhile, Over at Absolute Poker, It Seems Scott Tom Really Did It

Just Conjecturin', Volume 12: The Absolute Scandal and the Day Occam Rolled Over in His Grave

Just Conjecturin', Volume 13: Absolute and the Snared Screen Names

Just Conjecturin', Volume 14: More Snared Images from Absolute

Just Conjecturin', Volume 15: The Graycat File

Just Conjecturin', Volume 16: The Curious Case of 'brainwashdodo'

Just Conjecturin', Volume 17: The Real Story of the UltimateBet Refunds

Just Conjecturin', Volume 18: Fakes a-Plenty Among the KGC 31

Just Conjecturin', Volume 19: The Real Problem with the UB Hand Histories

Just Conjecturin', Volume 20: The Carpenter Connection

Just Conjecturin', Volume 21: Graycat the Traveler

Just Conjecturin', Volume 22: It's the Plane, Boss, the Plane!

Just Conjecturin', Volume 23: So What Happened to the Plane?

Just Conjecturin', Volume 24: Tying Together Some Leads

Just Conjecturin', Volume 25: Flotsam, Jetsam and Other Errata

Just Conjecturin', Volume 26: Who or What is Riviera, Ltd.?

Just Conjecturin', Volume 27: Uncovering Brainwashdodo

Just Conjecturin', Volume 28: The Brainwashdodo Correspondence

Just Conjecturin', Volume 29: Inside the Makar Email

Just Conjecturin', Volume 30: Naming Names -- Greg Pierson

Just Conjecturin', Volume 31: Intermezzo

Just Conjecturin', Volume 32: Cereusly Funny Missing Videos

Just Conjecturin', Volume 33: Down Goes Frazier... err, Cereus

Just Conjecturin', Volume 34: Behind the IDS Closing -- Olman Rimola vs. Paul Leggett

Just Conjecturin', Volume 35: Norwegian Exposure

Just Conjecturin', Volume 36: More Norwegian Exposure

Just Conjecturin', Volume 37: The Clown Prince, err, Chairman of the Board

Just Conjecturin', Voulme 38: The Sad Case of the UB Data Leaks

Just Conjecturin', Volume 39: The Leaked 'Russ Hamilton' Records

Just Conjecturin', Volume 40: Three Records

Just Conjecturin', Volume 41: The Episode in which I Discover I'd Moved to Afghanistan

Just Conjecturin', Volume 42: The Troublesome, Off-Topic Record

Just Conjecturin', Volume 43: AP's Chairman Janusz Targeted by Norwegian Bankruptcy Attorneys; $250 Million Corporate Theft Alleged

Just Conjecturin', Volume 44: The Dirty Birds

Just Conjecturin', Volume 45: The Mezrich Book

Just Conjecturin', Volume 46: Ultimate Burger

Just Conjecturin', Volume 47: New Russ Hamilton Cheating Accounts Revealed

Just Conjecturin', Volume 48: Real Names Behind the New Hamilton / Makar UB Cheating Accounts

Just Conjecturin', Volume 49: The Names Behind Seven More Russ Hamilton UltimateBet Cheating Accounts

Monday, January 28, 2013

Just Conjecturin', Vol. 49: The Names Behind Seven More Russ Hamilton UltimateBet Cheating Accounts

Picking up where we left off this morning, this post provides the actual account information attached to seven more accounts used in the UltimateBet cheating which were known to be used by Russ Hamilton in his long-running cheating scheme at that site.

This morning, I provided the real names as listed for four new cheating accounts, whose screen names had been listed within a photo dump by long-time Hamilton computer guy Travis Makar. Those four accounts -- BEER2GO, DIAM123, ILENDU and GOGRACY -- can be viewed here.

I also speculated that the links behind some of those names suggested that the way they were created was for Russ Hamilton to supply names and addresses of friends from his vast circle of acquaintances, and Makar created accounts in their names. Investigations elsewhere have shown that at least six of the AOL accounts in the Makar photo dumps, all housed at AOL, were registered either specifically to Makar's wife, Lauren, or to an unidentified person in the Las Vegas area (which could still be one of the Makars).

Since then I've received confirmation from a secret (but quite trustworthy) source, this afternoon on Skype, that this is exactly how these accounts were created.  Hamilton supplied the names and addresses and Makar used them to create UB accounts.

Now it's on to the next seven, which were identified in indirect means from other information in Makar's photos. Those seven accounts' screennames were released yesterday right here -- BRANSON, DANAS, STRAYCAT1980, TUNICADOG, VEGASRUN, WINDSORWIN and GREEKTOWN.

On to the details and related thoughts:

BRANSON

Dana Moser
P.O. Box 7092
Branson, MO
Relationship to Hamilton: Unknown as yet

In the last batch, there was a different Dana, a Dotson that lived in another town on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks (Fredericktown). This Dana's husband in named Darrel, and the two are in their 50s. Think that's a coincidence? Then there's this one:

DANAS

Robert Stacey
3166 S. Morrish
Swartz Creek, MI 48473
Relationship to Hamilton: Unknown as yet

Does DANAS refer to two people named Dana, in some memory game of Hamilton's? Who knows? ... or cares, really. But this account goes back to someone in Hamilton's old Michigan stomping grounds. Mr. Stacey is in his early 60s.

STRAYCAT1980

Timothy Morgan
P.O. Box 2829
Oceana, WV 24870
Relationship to Hamilton: Unknown as yet

I didn't really believe there was an Oceana, WV until I looked, and yes, it's real, as is this gentleman, who today is in his early 50s. Again, the general age equality between all these people and Hamilton cannot be overlooked.

TUNICADOG

Louretta Daniels
P.O. Box 515
Laurel, FL 34272
Relationship to Hamilton: Unknown as yet

The ID behind this one had me puzzled for a short while, until I found this link: http://www.sc-pa.com/search/search_results.asp?type=street&kw1=18217&year=2011. Louretta and her husband, George W. Daniels, are around age 60 and actually live in nearby Nokomis, FL. I'm gonna guess the Daniels met Russ at Tunica, just to take a shot at it.

VEGASRUN

Sharon Ward
PMB 122
1750 N. Buffalo, Suite 104
Las Vegas, NV 89128

Sharon Ward sold a home to Russ Hamilton in Las Vegas which also included transactions to Travis's mother, Rebecca Makar. Clearly and closely tied to Hamilton.

WINDSORWIN

Rickey Stacey
20259 Foxboro
Riverview, MI 48192
Relationship to Hamilton: Unknown as yet

Back to Hamilton's old Michigan stomping grounds for this one. Is likely related to Robert Stacey (DANAS, above), and who knows -- there may even be a connection to the "Ricky C Gracy" stuff in this morning's account batch. Mr. Stacey is in his mid 50s.

GREEKTOWN

Jim McCann
2765 Nearing
Rochester Hills, MI 48309
Relationship to Hamilton: Unknown as yet

And yet another account with a purported Michigan address, linked to the UB cheating. McCann is an outlier by age among this presumed circle of Hamilton associates, being only 42 or so today.

. . . .

All of these people -- very real people, to be sure -- would have been included in the KGC's list of alleged Hamilton co-conspirators had these accounts been identified earlier. Whether they actually had anything to do with the cheating is another matter altogether. Nonetheless, the accounts existed, and thanks to Russ Hamilton, their names are now linked to online poker's largest-ever cheating scandal.

Again, anyone who can provide specifics as to the linkage between these people and Hamilton is welcome to contact me, and can either get a public shoutout or remain confidential, according to wish. At this point it's nothing more than completing the jigsaw and dropping in a few more random pieces, but the project goes on.

Just Conjecturin', Vol. 48: Real Names Behind the New Hamilton / Makar UB Cheating Accounts

As we mentioned last tine out, a release of data by Russ Hamilton's former computer guy, Travis Makar, has led to the confirmation of eleven new known accounts used by Hamiilton in the UltimateBet insider cheating scandal.

Those familiar with the scandal may remember than four years back, when the Kahnawake Gaming Commission issued its report publicly blaming Hamilton, they also released a list of 31 people who were allegedly involved to various degrees. As exposed here back then, that list was composed roughly 50/50 of outright fake names created for Hamilton's use, along with a number of people associated with either UltimateBet or Hamilton himself who had some connection with the outed accounts.

Those also included in the KGC lists included Makar, his wife Lauren and mother Becky, along with several friends of Hamilton's including Natalie Digioia, Ron Saccavino and Dennis Novinskey.

Photos released two days ago by Makar included the screennames of four more UB accounts likely used by Hamilton in the cheating, and yesterday I published an additional seven accounts that can be gleaned by cross-referencing the photos to UB data files I have.  Those eleven new cheating accounts:

BEER2GO
DIAM123
ILENDU
GOGRACY

BRANSON
STRAYCAT1980
DANAS
TUNICADOG
VEGASRUN
WINDSORWIN
GREEKTOWN

Today comes the publishing of the primary account information for each of the eleven files.  A couple of them  are already linked to Hamilton, and the task for readers (should they join in the effort) is to provide more links to the other people listed and confirm what's known.  Hat tips here to all who come up with relevant info.

My working assumption is that when Hamilton set up his scheme, he scoured his extensive lists of friends and relatives for people who weren't likely to play poker, or as in the earlier cases of Saccavino and Novinskey, he just went ahead and used an account in their name.  Unlike a theory proposed by Druff over at the pokerfraudalert blogs, I don't think that most of these were used for cashing-out purposes, though it's possible.  I think it's more likely that these accounts were used to cheat at the tables by Russ, who then transferred the illicit winnings back to other Russ accounts.

It is also possible that some of the people listed here have connections to close Hamilton associates such as Fred David or Charles "Woody" Moore, the latter who is actually the person linking Makar to Hamilton over a decade ago.

From the top, then, the first of two posts looking at the latest 11, which all seem to link to real people.  Let's start with the four accounts directly listed by Makar in one of his photos.  While these accounts appear to actually have been in use by Hamilton, if the standards used in the official KGC report on the UB cheating were applied here, then all of these names would have been included as purported co-conspirators, which also says something about the shoddy job done by the KGC.  Maybe they were, maybe they weren't, but their names are on these accounts:


BEER2GO             

Dana Dotson
P.O. Box 656
Fredericktown, MO

Mrs. Dotson appears to be a 76-year-old grandmother living in Fredericktown, a nice little town on the northeast edge of the southern Missouri Ozarks.  (I've been there.)  This account's info brings up a couple of points about this latest batch of accounts, in which the recurring theme of names and addresses general involves several distinct locations -- Las Vegas, Michigan (where Hamilton formerly lived), Texas (where a lot of Hamilton's associates have lived), and the Missouri Ozarks.

Most of the names in the latest batch also seem to be white men in their 50's, which would tend to be the general descriptor for many of Russ's sportsbetting/golf/poker cronies.  Mrs. Dotson doesn't seem to fit that bill, though either of her two sons, Doug or Ron, might.


DIAM123  

Alfonso Ceron
3585 S. Maryland Pkwy, Ste. G
Las Vegas, NV

Alfonso and his wife Brenda (alternate spellings of last name include "Cerrone" and "Cerone"), own and operate the off-off-Strip business Gold Rush Jewelry Design; this is the business address of the place.  The connection to Hamilton may well come from a previous business venture of Hamilton and Mansour Matloubi's, in which they were involved in Thailand in a business that manufactured faux diamonds.


ILENDU

Pete Anello
"Great Anello" in street-address field
Las Vegas, NV  89123

Anello is a Vegas-area real estate broker who likely has golf (and possibly sportsbetting) ties to Hamilton.  Needs some firming up with additional info, and he doesn't seem to be a regular poker player.


GOGRACY

Mary Banks
1291 Bruce St.
Pahrump, NV  89048

This one might be a fake, the only one of this first batch for which that can be said.  "Mary Bruce" is the only one of these four I can't match up via the intertubes to that address, which of late belongs to a man named Reed Reynolds, who runs a smallish AAAA Handyman Svcs. business from that address.  I doubt Reynolds has any more to do with this than "Mary Banks".

More interesting, perhaps, is the "gogracy" name, along with a "rickycgracy" as the password for one of this account's associated entries. While there is another "Ricky" attached to the next batch of accounts, there are a couple of Rick C. Gracy folks on the web who fit the general profile of some of these friends of Hamilton's.  Does anyone know?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Just Conjecturin', Vol. 47: New Russ Hamilton Cheating Accounts Revealed

Welcome back, friends and neighbors, to the blog series that never ends. This time out, we'll toss out a few more accounts that have been linked to Russ Hamilton's cheating at UltimateBet.

The information released today is either included in or derived from a handful of photos that Hamilton's long-time computer guy, Travis Makar, has released to Bryan Micon over at Donkdown. You can find front-page links to the photos this piece references there, but as always, note that DD is a NSFW site, sometimes excessively so.

We're not going to talk about the whys of all this stuff today, merely build on what's there.  One photo shows an account linked to ex UB head Greg Pierson, screen-named "ubplayer".  I can verify after checking several sources that "ubplayer" is an account that was deleted from later UB files.

Makar released four other small groups of e-mail addresses and account names, seemingly in connection with the UB cheating.  A good share of my Saturday was spent researching these accounts.
 
One image shows the following series of aol user names: THENUTZFORME, IGAME4ME, RKYDH, POFANME, AHHROUNDER and LPWDRY.  These are not UB screen names, but the last one can be linked conclusively to the "LIVTHELIF" account purportedly registered to a "James Brunson," one of about a dozen and a half fake names already known to be used by Hamilton, as revealed earlier on this blog.  There is reason to believe that all six of these AOL names are related to other fake-named UB accounts that have already been discovered.
 
Not so with the other three images.  One of those three shows four new screen names not previously associated with the Russ Hamilton cheating.  Those four accounts:
 
BEER2GO
DIAM123
ILENDU
GOGRACY
 
Each can clearly be added to the list of known UB cheating accounts.  That leaves two images from the latest Makar batch, which together show the log-ins at various third-party e-mail sites for accounts under Hamilton's control.  All told those images show another 11 accounts.
 
After a day's worth of unexpected work and exhaustive cross-checking of other files in my possession, I am able to put screennames to seven of those 11 accounts, and they should also be added to the known "Russ Hamilton" cheating list.  These are the seven additional UB screen names which can now be tied to the cheating:
 
BRANSON
STRAYCAT1980
DANAS
TUNICADOG
VEGASRUN
WINDSORWIN
GREEKTOWN
 
Each of these 11 new accounts, in turn, may also have used multiple screennames during their existence. 
 
Now here's the kicker.  Without getting into the specifics in great depth, it appears that each of these accounts is linked to a verifiable, real-life person, much like the Ron Saccavino / Dennis Novinskey / Natalie DiGioia accounts among those already outed, where these people allowed their names to be attached to accounts in probable exchange for other favors and compensation from Hamilton. 
 
My working theory (as yet unproven), is that Russ supplied the names and addresses from his real life
list of friends and acquaintances, and Travis set up the accounts for him.  I'll be releasing these as I confirm some of the links involved.
 
In any event, this expands the list of actual accounts now known to be involved by another 30 percent or so.  There will be others.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Just Conjecturin', Volume 46: Ultimate Burger

Back today with a new and lighthearted JC installment, a bit of a break from the heavy stuff in many previous posts. This time out it's a look at a tangential tale from the greater UB world, about a Costa Rican burger joint with a heckuva big UB connection, and a story shared just because it's entertaining.

Our protagonist this time is Tommy Percell, UltimateBet's one-time UB Customer Relations Manager, often posting on forums as UBTommy. (Yes, "UBTommy" incorporated a real person's name, unlike "FTPDoug".)

Percell, a Colorado native, worked for both UB and UBT (the Ultimate Blackjack Tour) at various times and was among several UB office workers who migrated to Costa Rica when the company relocated much of its customer-service operations there. And it was there that he fell in love with a tica, a Costa Rican girl named Milenna Perea, and as the two shuttled back and forth between CR and the States, they pondered opening an upscale burger joint in Costa Rica, targeting in large part, Costa Rica's sizeable US expat population.

Percell left UB not only on good terms but perhaps with, as it's been rumored, some UB-related backing. Percell and Perea pinched pennies to open up shop in Costa Rica, no shame in that, and if there was a UB backer, it might have been the UBT's Joe Pane, a former NYC cop who retired to become a professional blackjack player, a career transition for the ages. Pane and Percell were known to be good buddies around the UBT offices. (Pane, interestingly enough, showed up on the red carpet for Dan Fleyshman's Ksino/Victory Poker bash a year or so ago, before that site's aborted transition to the Cereus Network and subsequent folding of operations.)

Anyhow, the burger joint Percell and Perea opened up was called Doc Brown's, and it paid homage to its UB beginnings in its logo:

For comparison, here's the UB logo from the same era:

Here's the restaurant's interior and a shot of the happy couple from shortly after the restaurant's opening. They later sold Doc Brown's and moved on:

I guess the burgers were pretty darned good. If I'd been working in Costa Rica at that time, it's a good bet I'd have been one of the place's customers.

Update: For what it's worth, Joe Pane subsequently contacted me and denied being a shadow investor in Percell's restaurant, though he did acknowledge being good friends with Percell. Pane hasn't shared anything else about his UBT days, though I've made it known I'm willing to listen to his tales. The UBT? Lots of stories to share on that count.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Just Conjecturin', Volume 45: The Mezrich Book

I've noticed today a couple of new news items referring to Ben Mezrich's upcoming effort on Absolute Poker. Mezrich's the one-time member of the fabled MIT blackjack team who wrote about that experience in the book Bringing Down the House (which I own), which later became the movie 21, which I've never watched.

This paragraph from a news story made me chortle:

When asked what he was working on, Mezrich said, "I'm working on a big new book for next summer about a bunch of college kids who launched the online poker world out of a dorm room essentially. They're brilliant kids who built an empire in a way, and now they're being persecuted, in hiding in Antigua, because they did something to me that was very American. It's an intersection of 21 and The Social Network." -- quote excerpted from a crap poker site that I rarely visit.

Persecuted victims? Okay, Ben, whatever. I'm gonna guess his book and mine will have starkly different viewpoints, though I do understand the sympatico he might feel for the AP fratboys, given his own start as part of a team that ripped off casinos. That deserves an explanation, too. I'm totally in favor of advantage blackjack players being allowed to ply their trade, but the complex systems employed by the MIT kids and their backers were a systematic fraud, romantic tale that the story may be.

(Odd aside: The Elgin, IL casino that figures prominently in Bringing Down the House is right down the road from where I live -- and I mean literally right down the road, about five miles.)

This book could be worse than the falsehood served up in BDTH, since portraying the AP core founders as victims is a goddamned farce, and I say that without seeing one word of whatever it is that Mezrich plans to write. I do note that he's not off to a great start, since the AP boys did not found online poker, nor were they responsible for what triggered AP's rapid growth phase. That idea was Mark Seif's.

I had thought on first hearing the news that the behind-the-scenes collaborator would probably turn out to be early AP poker-room manager Gian Perroni, who tried to pitch a concept for a book called Folding the Absolute Nuts a few years back. I was among those he pitched it to, and I turned it down. I'm no longer sure this is Perroni's baby. It could still be a Perroni/Mezrich package, or it could be some of the fratboys themselves, or even Phil Tom, who spewed very similar nonsense to me in a lengthy phone interview/argument a few months back.

Whatever, my best to Mezrich, though I don't respect this concept as he's promoting it. I'm sure he'll sell lots of books. I'd rather get the story right.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Just Conjecturin', Volume 44: The Dirty Birds

"You seem to be in some distress," said the kindly judge to the witness. "Is anything the matter?"

"Well, your Honor," said the witness, "I swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but every time I try, some lawyer objects." -- classic lawyer joke

I love me some lawyer jokes, as do most sane people, even as I know that most funny jokes have roots in reality. This time out the topic is lawyers, and the only way to deal with such a stinky topic is to tackle it head on.

If you wondered if there'll be lawyerly tales in the upcoming book, the answer is yes, but in some ways the shocking part is not that there are lawyers involved in the UltimateBet and Absolute Poker cheating tales, but rather, how many. Several ongoing storylines connected to these matters circle back toward perhaps the most famous of all gaming lawyers, Montreal-based Morden "Cookie" Lazarus, of the firm Lazarus Charbonneau, and Cookie's fingerprints spread from these sites' earliest days all the way into the the Norwegian tax matter that we touched on last time out. It's safe -- even "legally safe", har har -- to say that Cookie is one of the secret legal puppetmasters of the online gaming world.

And yet this isn't about Cookie... yet. This time out it's more a matter of introducing some new legal players into the growing roll of folks affiliated with Excapsa or UB. They've all been familiar to me for some time, and all seem to have things to answer for.

There have been plenty of lawyers affiliated with the UB operations, some as staff counsel, and others as consultants. Boil it down and leave out some of the high-priced freelancers for the moment, and the real Excapsa lawyers of interest number just three.

First, there's Sanford "Sandy" Millar, a California-based attorney who served as Excapsa's day-to-day tax and payroll attorney, knowingly doing all this for a US company (that being Excapsa) that was clearly violating US gaming laws as it operated out of Portland, via a pretense of a sham Toronto office that was little more than a secretary and a dropbox. Millar was there virtually from the start, and was a significant Excapsa shareholder.

Second, there's Stuart Hoegner, a hired gun who arrived on the Excapsa scene around the start of 2006 to assist in the company's London Stock Exchange IPO, and to help with possible sales of the company that were also being discussed. Except the UIGEA was thrown into the mix late in 2006, and it was Hoegner who played a key role in designing the complex shell sale to Absolute Poker that involved bringing former Kahnawake Grand Chief Joseph Norton on as a nominal frontman. Hoegner remains on legal distribution lists on Excapsa matters to this day, despite his relatively late arrival on the Excapsa scene.

Hoegner pops up on Twitter often under his @GamingCounsel tag, and I get an exceptional kick out of him trying to redefine himself as a legal media expert while avoiding utterly all discussions of Excapsa, in light of his previous role. It's fun antagonizing the guy on Twitter, knowing that the things I allude to are true and supported by documentation and that he could never withstand a discovery process if he was to get serious about suing me.

In leaving Stuey (for the moment), it's worth noting a recent paper he delivered at a Las Vegas gaming conference that examined several prominent online poker networks' relative legal protections, strengths and weaknesses as pertained to various jurisdictions, including the US. To which I say, "Of course he's the expert -- he just spent the better part of a decade learning exactly which fine lines to dance and which grey areas to skirt!" You can visit Stuey at the website for his "boutique" law practice here.

But even Hoegner pales to one Daniel S. Friedberg, one of the true secret bad people behind the Excapsa facade. Friedberg was there from the very start, and his role in online poker matters follows a strange route indeed. Friedberg graduated along with Phil Hellmuth from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and seems to have served as Phil Hellmuth's personal attorney -- kind of an agent for Phil's interests, back when UB was born. Friedberg soon became Excapsa's general counsel, with all that involved, even relocating at one point to Toronto to help put a little real meat behind that otherwise-sham office.

Friedberg, though, is a Wisconsin/Seattle person, and these days he keeps about as low a profile as one could possibly imagine for a corporate attorney. No public Twitter or Facebook feeds for an attorney or his practice... really?

Friedberg can be found, however, at a small Seattle legal firm, Crest Law Group. Here's his corporate page, and what's so damned odd about is that all the personal highlights just stop in 2006. The final highlight, listed first on his official bio, is this:

• Corporate counsel for $100 million IPO on the London Stock Exchange AIM (2006)

That's a reference to Excapsa's failed London Stock Exchange IPO, and after that, Friedberg's history -- or so he'd like the world to believe -- just goes dark.

And now, just a bit more of the story....

It appears that Friedberg joining Excapsa at its inception was part of the complex package that also ensconced Hellmuth as the site's frontman, and for the first part of the '00s, UB's corporate history is pretty well known. Friedberg did quite well for himself, garnering several million shares of Excapsa stock in addition to his pay, with said shares distributed across several different ownership entities.

Then the UIGEA happened, the IPO collapsed, and the hasty "sale" to Absolute Poker was arranged, with terms of sale very unfavorable to Excapsa's rank-and-file shareholders. Amid all this, Friedberg switched sides, going to work for Absolute Poker and becoming Scott Tom's attorney as well. You read it right: Friedberg kept himself tied to the money stream, wherever it went, and the Excapsa shareholders whose rights he was suppose to protect were instead just a disposable commodity. The general shareholders screamed about the blatant conflict of interest, but to no avail. A few of the key UB insiders remained tied to Cereus, either through software deals or the endorser packages offered to UB site pros Hellmuth and Annie Duke. But the proletariat shareholders were given a highly dubious promissory note, and pretty much dumped by the attorney who was supposed to be protecting them.

Even for an attorney, that's disgusting behavior.

Having already jumped ship, it's no surprise Friedberg's bad behavior continued on the AP side, when the rank-and-file shareholders at Madeira Fjord were later jettisoned in a similar manner. There's even a tale that circulates among AP ranks of Friedberg unilaterally withdrawing a stock option previously promised to AP spokesman Mark Seif, leaving Seif much worse off and with a smaller ownership stake than his original performance contract intended.

The whole Scott Tom thing, too. Circles within circles, but some of them are pretty damned tight.

But wait, there's more! Last year, listeners over at Bryan Micon's Donkdown Radio site were treated to an impromptu interview with Travis Makar, who is generally described as Russ Hamilton's computer guy. Among other things, Makar, his wife and his mother also had their names on cheating accounts controlled by Russ. Makar went on Donkdown to discuss a few things and hinted at a secret recording that was made of UB execs once the UB cheating scandal erupted.

Makar won't talk about this recording, which I had previously learned of anyway, and which was made by Russ Hamilton himself. The added tidbit coming from his Donkdown interview is where he accidentally let slip one of the participants in the meeting -- Daniel Friedberg. Among the topics relayed as being discussed in that meeting were that several people cheated using God Mode, that they had to discuss what percentage of cheated funds they'd had to give back, and decide who could be left off the refund list.

This means that at the very least, Friedberg actively participated in the cheating coverup at at least one site, UB, if not also over at AP. This is one dirty attorney. Maybe that fact should be added to that Strathmore's "Who's Who" listing Friedberg seems to be fond of.

Was Friedberg one of the actual hole-card cheaters? It seems odd that corporate counsel would have access to the cheating tool, but stranger things have happened. Nonetheless, sources have indicated Friedberg may have indeed been involved, and while the actual hand histories that would prove or disprove Friedberg's involvement remain sealed, he is confirmed to have played on the site from 2000 onward. Friedberg had at least three UB accounts -- "SEATTLE", "DANRAYN" and "BIGLOULEO" -- that date from UB's earliest days, and all readers are free to research those accounts to check win rates and look for suspicious hands. There may have been other Friedberg accounts as well.

Should the real hand histories ever be made public, they could prove Friedberg's innocence (or guilt). This writer makes no definitive accusation, beyond the scummy lawyerly stuff, but merely notes that the wall of smoke surrounding Friedberg remains firmly in place.

There's also the strange departure of Hellmuth from Cereus at the end of 2010, which to my knowledge has never been adequately explained. Annie Duke was already off contract and was being paid a monthly retainer, and she and Scott Tom hated each other's guts anyway; no surprise she was jettisoned. Yet Hellmuth's contract, according to AP insiders, lasted at least another year, and Hellmuth seems to have invited AP to void his deal by showing up at a December '10 poker tourney wearing "Aria"-branded gear. Doing so was probably a million-dollar decision and seems decidedly unlike the dollar-focused Hellmuth, unless he was tipped off to something bad in the works, which generally describes the Norwegian tax mess then just beginning to swirl around Absolute Poker. With back-looking perspective, one possible explanation now emerges: Did Friedberg tip off Hellmuth that it was time to get out?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Just Conjecturin', Volume 43: AP's Chairman Janusz Targeted by Norwegian Bankruptcy Attorneys; $250 Million Corporate Theft Alleged

Back to the Just Conjecturin' grind, with a hat tip this time out to an anonymous commenter who alerted me to a unfolding legal action in US District Court, right here in my home state.  This involves the former chairman, Ron Janusz, of Absolute Poker's one-time parent/holding company, Norwegian Fjord Madeira Fjord AS. 

Madeira Fjord declared bankruptcy last year, and was subsequently hit with a 180 million kroner (about USD $30 million) tax bill for its transference of corporate assets through the Norwegian financial system.  All that plays into the Norwegian court's bankruptcy process, which continues to attempt to unravel AP's investment Gordian Knot.

In the latest legal developments, the Norwegian court-appointed bankruptcy attorney, Thomas Steen Brandi, has sought a detailed laundry list of documents and a deposition from Janusz (full-name Robert Ronald Janusz.  Janusz has been described in othe reports as a Canadian national but has lived in the US for at least 15 years, and appears to have entered the Absolute Poker sphere of influence through an extended business friendship with Floridian Hilt Tatum III, the father of SAE fratboy/co-founder Hilt Tatum IV. 

Steen's firm retained the sources of Illinois law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP and attorney Jordan P. Vick, filing an application for subpoena against Janusz after Janusz ignored months worth of Norwegian efforts to supply documentatiom regarding Madeira Fjord and a related Portuguese entity, Avoine - Servico de Consultadoria e Marketing.  Janusz currently lives in West Chicago, IL.  Janusz also served as the public chairman of Avoine, which has been alleged to be the true hiding spot of the Americans who really controlled AP in the years following its acquisition of UltimateBet and its flight from America's UIGEA.

The filing against Janusz was made in the Northern District of Illinois' US District Court on February 29, 2012, with the motion quickly granted on March 12, 2012.  Janusz quickly retained attorney Leonard A. Rodes of New York firm Trachtenburg Rodes & Friedberg LLP, and to date has not appeared to answer the subpoena, with the next hearing in the matter scheduled for June 14, 2012.

The purpose of the Norwegian pursuit appears to be two-fold.  First, Madeira Fjord issued an unexplained "loan" from Absolute Poker coffers to Janusz in 2007 for $3.125 million.  The loan agreement was signed on December 17, 2007, with $2.5 million known to be transferred to one of several businesses owned by Janusz, Universal Business Management Group, four days later, and that loan remained on the Madeira Fjord ledgers.  According to a letter sent to Janusz last June:

"The loan is still registered in Madeira Fjord AS' annual accounts and has not been repaid.  A copy of the loan agreement is attached.  The estate considers the loan agreement to be illegal, cf. the Norwegian Companies Act Section 8-11, and UBMG has an obligation to repay the loan immediately."

It is not known if the additional $625,000 called for under the original loan agreement was ever transferred to Janusz, but the request for repayment added $473,083 in interest charges to the known $2.5 million on the books, for a total of $2,973,083 as of June 22, 2011.  That total is believed to have climbed to roughly $3.1 million today.

The second purpose of the hoped-for deposition of and documentation from Janusz appears to be further uncovering of the two $125 million promissory notes at the heart of the AP/UB acquisition and subsequent transfer trough two different faked frontmen, first Joseph Tokwiro Norton, then Blanca Games placeholder Stuart Gordon.

Unfortunately, the rank-and-file shareholders of Absolute Poker received only a few pennies on the dollar in investment return, with the deposition by Norwegian attorney Steen detailing one of the first step-by-step descriptions of the legal and business machinations of the corporate ripoff made public to date. 

In 2007, Absolute's core executives and shareholders executed a "mirror image merger" in which all the original Absolute Poker investors, which had been bundled together in original holding company SGS (BVI) Inc., were shunted over to Madeira Fjord, while the operations of AP went through Avoine and several other related entities.

Avoine's assets were then sold back to Absolute Entertainment SA, while SGS was dissolved and, as it was sold to the shareholders, removing the American corporate tie-back.  It was all promised to be returned to the general shareholders through the $250 million in combined promissory notes, plus promised minimum monthly payments of $1.7 million.  But the theft waited in the details.  According to the Steen deposition, this happened next:

"Then, in December 2008, Madeira/Avoine initiated a purported 'rescission' of the $250 million sale and assets and shares from Avoine to AE.

"Thereafter, it appears that Avoine executed an instrument called an Exercise of Secured Creditors Rights (the 'Exercise Agreement') by which Avoine instructed Tokwiro to transfer the assets and shares in AE (and thus the 'Absolute Poker assets') to an entity called Blanca Games Inc. ('Blanca'), subject to Avoine's continuing security in the assets.

However, according to Steen, and which has been verified to me independently by other AP investors, promissory note payments and dividends were never paid.  As Steen summarized it:

"... the significant assets of Avoine -- which were valued in 2007 at $250 million and which were developed with capital supplied by about 250 innocent US shareholders -- have simply been misappropriated by those persons controlling the involved entities."

Janusz is believed to believe to be in possession of several key documents related to the shuffling of corporate entities, and copies of many of the early non-answered documents were also sent to Floridian trust-fund baby Shane Blackford, third of the four original University of Montana SAE fratboys generally credited as Absolute Poker's co-founders, along with Scott Tom, Garin Gustafson and Hilt Tatum IV. 

Several AP officials and execeuitves are mentioned in the filing's attached documents, including Richard Borgner, who like Blackford and Janusz served briefly on Madeira's board, and US-indicted AP principals Scott Tom and Brent Beckley.  The lack of mention of additional individual shareholders, but the inclusion of such ownership entities as Greencat Holdings, alleged by one AP shareholder -- but unproven as yet -- to be affiliated in some form with Scott Tom's father Phil Tom, points to the information coming from a 2010-era, general-ownership registry for Madeira Fjord known to be in legal circulation.

Earlier unofficial documents, authored before the creation of the Avoine/Madeira shells, show many more of the true owners of Absolute Poker.  At least seven of those individuals, US citizens working as AP executives, received ownership stakes in Avoine, with an ownership registry for that company not yet within easy reach of the Norwegian bankruptcy effort.

Correspondence with at least two dozen legal and corporate firms affiliated with Absolute Poker was also targeted by the subpoena, including a couple of entities new even to this researcher.

*   *   *   *   *

Book update.  Work continues... slowly.  As you all can see, the story refuses to end.  In addition to all the hundreds of e-mails and hours of tapes and sifting of stories that I continue to do, there's thousands and thousands of pages of court documents to work with.  The pile keeps on growing.

Sometimes, I dig deep and hit a dead-end.  That's happened a few times lately, but I never expected this would be an easy tale to tell.

The above needed to be reported because it's news-news-news, but I have backstories that go along with much of the above.  That work continues to help build the second half of the book, which deals mostly with AP.  The UB stuff I thought I had finished up, until a new wave of information about the company's early years forced me to go back and rewrite virtually everything.

Will it be good, when it's finally done?  Hell, I don't know, but I keep plugging.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Major Links Overhaul

Spring cleaning time at the ol' Haley's Poker Blog corral, which meant going through the link pile at lower left and getting rid of some of the old and expired blogs.  Sadly, there were quite a few entries down there that needed to go away, even as I discovered a couple of blogs that should have been there that somehow weren't.

While a lot of the old standbys of the poker-blog world remain in business, chugging along, it's shocking to see how poker's Black Friday really shook the guts out of what I refer to, with no meanness intended, as the second and third tiers of poker blogs.  No matter what our reasons for blogging, virtually every one of us so-called poker bloggers extracted some measure of poker joy from playing the game.  Since our opportunities for play have been reduced -- not eliminated, but reduced -- a lot of that joy has been taken away.  Hence the reason for many bloggers to write was taken away as well.

If you think I've removed your blog in error, please send a note.  I don't try to be all-inclusive, however, so if you've got an affiliate link trying to masquerade as a blog or if you're hiding your content behind a paywall, or something else that runs contrary to my personal concept of what blogs are supposed to be about, then I probably won't be linking you up.

More stuff soon.  Spring malaise lifting.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Just Conjecturin', Vol. 42: The Troublesome, Off-Topic Record

Back with a tale from the development of back stories for the upcoming book, and this time it's with a mostly unconnected piece that really won't fit into the book's greater monologue in any meaningful way.  It might get a mention, but it's off on such a tangent, and it's such a troubling thing, that it just needs to be published and dealt with, for better or for worse.

The last couple of times out I've published a handful of records from the spammer data drop generally referred to as the leaked UB files.  Those two posts showed record details for two people, UB's Russ Hamilton and AP's Brent Beckley, both of whom had executive roles in their respective companies.  The data in the six records I released was interesting, but hardly earth-shattering or story-changing.

Yet there was one record I've stumbled upon in my many, many nights of scouring these leaked files that has caused me some internal bother, and it circles around to a very dark poker-related episode from a couple of years ago.  This tale, however, requires some advance explanation.

Among these roughly 225 files and three million mostly UB player accounts, I've sifted and filtered and finally stumbled upon a curious relic of the company's inner workings.  There were a handful of accounts that were very special -- they received unique tags denoting them as being "wire only" accounts, and almost without fail they've been attached in some way to site VIPs.  I've found 15 of the things so far, after several hours of specific filtering, and I might find a few more.  I would guess that a couple of dozen more may have existed and were deleted prior to these records' transfer over to the AP/Cereus system, which is where these data dumps seem to have been created.

Fourteen of the 15 accounts have relevance to various book topics, so if you're the owner of one of these and I've found it... congrats, you'll be in the book, even if just as an innocent high-roller mention, which describes three of four of these occurrences.  Nine or ten of these accounts appear to have other special purposes, and despite the relative anonymity of some of the account holders, I've already determined the purpose or connection behind each.  Several are quite important in fleshing out behind-the-scenes tales.

And then there is this damnable 15th wire-only account.  It belonged to a man named Andreas Oscarsson, though the last name in the record -- munged a bit, as with many important UB accounts that I've found -- appeared as "Oskarsso".  The "n" was dropped due to other stuff in the "Last Name" field making everything too long to fit, but other data within the record satisfies me that this account was Oscarsson's, despite the intentional misspelling.

Those of you knowledgable about the poker industry's inner workings probably already know where this is headed.  Sweden-born Andreas Oscarsson was well known as the co-founder of one of the largest affiliate sites of all, PokerListings, before retiring from the industry a few years back.  But that's not the whole story.  Oscarsson seems to have been involved in bitter legal disputes with his former business partners over the de-valuation of PokerListings' market worth, post-UIGEA, and was murdered shortly after returning to Sweden, just before he was set to testify in a blackmail trial.  Those two things may or may not have been connected.  It's a murky topic, and people don't talk about it.

A Swedish thug was arrested for Oscarsson's murder, done allegedly at the behest of Oscarsson's one-time business partner, but this man was later released, and the whole case lies there, officially unsolved.  I remember writing a couple of years back that Oscarsson was possibly the first victim/fatality of the UIGEA, but that turned out to be not altogether true.  Quite some time before Oscarsson's murder, a second Swede with the same name was murdered in what authorities believe was a case of mistaken identity.  That poor random somebody's child/husband/friend was the UIGEA's first true fatality.

Back to the present.  Having recognized this account as Oscarsson's, I also recognized that this account stood out like a sore thumb among these other wire-only records.  It is the only such record I can find connected to any sort of affiliate operation, and it sticks out for a second reason as well -- major affiliates were paid separately through another channel, not via an account like this.  I've searched for accounts of several other people I know to have been major affiliate players at UB and none of them have a wire-only player account that I've been able to find, though for most of them I've found regular player accounts, as one would expect. 

In short, there is no ready explanation as to why this account existed in the way it did.  It could be just a favor to a friend, and that needs saying, too.

It is inherently unfair to the deceased to even have to bring this stuff up, because there may very well be an innocent explanation, and Oscarsson is no longer here to explain it or to defend himself from the suppositions that will inevitably arise.  And yet the opposite is also true: If something untoward was going on -- and God knows, there was enough of that crap going on at UB -- then the matter has to be brought public, if only for the very slim chance of benefiting those close to that other Andreas Oscarsson, whose only mistake was having the wrong name.

Thus came a handful of restless nights and hours of thought on the matter, and discussing the pros and cons with a couple of trusted friends.  Yes, this shit does get to me after a while.

The final choice was to publish this, but it was not a decision easily reached.  A week or two back I was in contact with a PokerListings rep discussing this matter, so they're aware of this blog's pending publication, but that's just a professional courtesy.  I don't think anyone at today's PL would've had a clue as to this account's wire-only status back in the day.


Mind you, the Oscarsson record itself is not incriminating.  Its presence is the curiosity.  It just seems like it shouldn't be there in the manner that it is. 


With the "Guainia" in a secondary address field and unexplained (I think it's a misspelled city or street), but with a date of birth for Oscarsson that seems to match, here's a slightly redacted version of most of the record.  With that I wash my hands of it:

Andreas [(Bank WIRE only) Oskarsso] United States andreas@result.com 241 299   03/29/1973 New York Guainia NY 10028 66.108.159.218 11/24/2008 22:11     UltimateBet 100000 52 [212 phone number] [212 phone number] 3102.73 0

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Just Conjecturin', Volume 41: The Episode in which I Discover I'd Moved to Afghanistan

I've been watching, with some interest, these recent developments regarding "Yukon" Brad Booth, amid the posting of links to a cryptic video by Booth on a prominent poker forum. What's Booth up to? I can't say for sure, though I am aware of tales from multiple channels that Booth had received one payment categorized as a "special refund" not too many months ago, and then a second payment didn't happen as promised. I've heard specific numbers in two instances, but both are lower than the $500,000 figure bandied about elsewhere. Nonethelss, all I've heard is hearsay, just secondhand stuff, and it might be true or might not.

I'd like to see Booth come out with whatever information he has. And shoot, Russ Hamilton can call me any time he wants to -- I'd be happy to talk with him. (Come to think of it, one of the Russ Hamilton records in the leaked UB records does have a phone number attached to it; I might have to check whether it's still good....)

Which brings us back, a bit more seriously, to the topic of those leaked UB files and a couple of the less useful fields included therein. These two fields are included only in records belonging to American UB players and contain misinformation designed to provide a false city/country combination to at least one third-party payment processor, among the several that were being used in the 2008-09 timeframe by parent company Absolute Poker. I'm revisiting this topic here just to put this little side tale to rest, since it doesn't have much to do with the cheating scandals, but is instead more an explanation of some of the corporate shenanigans poker sites had to do to keep the financial spigots open to and from their American players.

No one's yet confirmed the exact purpose for these two US-only fields, but the person most likely to be able to describe the fields' use is AP's Brent Beckley, and he's not talking much these days. We'll plow on ahead anyways. Deep in the records for each UB player, at some point in time after they'd been converted over to AP for Cereus Network use, two fields were added, showing this unlikely city/country combination. These did not appear on every US player's account among the records that were leaked late last year, but they were present on a majority of the roughly two million US records.

Sharp-eyed observers noticed that one of the Brent Beckley records I published last time out included two fields, "Sichuan" and "China", while two of the Russ Hamilton records in Vol. 39 carried similar field combinations of "Batna, Algeria" and "Obla, Ukraine". Here's how these fields appear when viewed in Excel:




In case you're wondering, that's my record that's highlighted. So when did I move to Afghanistan? As you can probably guess, I didn't. Filtering this data shows that there were 125 of these highly improbable city/country combinations repeated over and over again, pasted into these two extra fields for each American player.

The fields seem to have been designed to not cause confusion with real city-country combinations that might appear. In addition to places like Algeria and China and Afghanistan where Absolute Poker had no (or very few) real cash customers, a few Western locales were mocked up as well, though these were munged to show something like "British Columbia, Canada", "Southern Finland, Finland" or "See Also, Italy".

It's all garbage, and clearly the result of a batch programming process designed to dump a made-up city and country combo into these two extra fields. The above image shows how the file appeared after the processing was done, though a copy of each player's real-life state of residence was also included a copy of fields further to the right. That "IL" entry, for example, is correct.

There are really only two possible explanations: It was either done to fool a specific payment processor, or it was done hand-in-hand with a favorite processor to provide false city/country info, the purpose being to fool a bank nearer in the processing chain to the actual customers. Most likely, this would be a major American bank serving as a funnel for EFTs and other payments. I tend to favor the "working-hand-in-hand-with-a-processor" answer, since the processors themselves shouldn't have been reprogramming any information received from AP.

Is it important in the tale of the scandals? Not really. It's just an interesting little diversion. What it does do is demonstrate the lengths to which AP and other sites had to go to continue servicing US players, post-UIGEA.