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 241 299   03/29/1973 New York Guainia NY 10028 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.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Just Conjecturin', Volume 40: Three Records

For various reasons, I'm going to release three records culled from the roughly three million UB records accidentally leaked a couple of months ago by whom I believe to be an Israeli spammer. Before getting down to the records themselves, I'd like to reaffirm a few things about the more than 200 data files that were leaked.

1) The files were not Cereus Network databases specifically, but the working material for spammers who had data from many sites. It just so happened that the largest share of the data was from UB.

2) The vast majority of the Cereus Network files were UB records, not AP ones. Despite Todd Witteles' assertion that a couple of his AP accounts are present, I've been unable to pinpoint a single record elsewhere that I know to have originated as an AP account.

3) The records included both real- and play-money accounts, and my best estimate based on known populations of certain types of accounts is that roughly 60% of the US player records are present in one form or another, split across many files.

4) Despite these largely being UltimateBet records, they have been transformed with new AP account numbers, in a batch process that looks to have been done over several nights around Thanksgiving of 2008. The actual date of the databases is somewhat later, and buried in one of the many files are the first couple of "" test accounts. It's a strong indicator of when these databases were created.

Ok, that's out of the way. I continue to search and sift these files for records of interest, and while I've found several hundred records of interest, I'm choosing today to publish three, with a fourth on an unrelated matter coming soon. These three are Brent Beckley accounts, but these are Beckley accounts from the UB side of the operation, not the AP stuff. It's almost certain that Beckley had many more accounts over on the AP side.

Without further ado, Beckley account #1:

BRENT BECKLEY Canada BRENT@BRENTBECKLEY.COM 3329A YONGE STREET Male 6/3/1980 TORONTO ON M4N2L9 Canada 7/18/2010 17:39 1 200000 0 (Toronto cel-phone number) 0 0 7/18/2010 17:39 UltimateBet.Com Blacklist User 0 E362B3E8-4477-5D1E-87D7-7A534447B209 47:05.6 Other 47:05.6 Ontario Y N IN 0 0 0 ecs_hn

This account shows just a tiny bit of play in 2008 when one checks the various online tracking sites, evidence that Beckley just dabbled on the UB side. The domain once existed but is now defunct. The "Blacklist User" tag is interesting, as it's a code applied to many accounts where shenanigans of many types occurred, but one can find the same code on accounts used for credit-card fraud, collusion, and other offenses against the site.

Account #2:

Brent Beckley United States 91 Campus Drive PMB 1512 6/3/1980 Missoula MT 8331632 M0RNINGW00D 59801 7/23/2008 22:41 99000 25943 (Atlanta-area phone number) (Atlanta-area phone number) 421.25 0 7/23/2008 22:41 UltimateBet.Com 0 Test(ALL) 0 Male Other Sichuan China Y MT 0 0 0

"M0RNINGW00D" was a test account, probably used lightly in-house in connection with the transition to the unified Cerues Network and the creation of the new It doesn't show up in any hand-tracking databases as far as I can tell. The "91 Campus Drive" comes from the boys' old SAE frat house, and the is a known business entity associated with the corporation operations of AP. The account's just a jumble of marginally interesting info.

Then there's account #3:

BRENT BECKLEY Canada BRENT@CASCADEDEVELOPMENTS.COM (Boise ID street address) Male 6/3/1980 TORONTO ON M4N2L9 Canada 11/24/2008 17:58 Television 257000 5000 (same Toronto cel-number as above) 0 0 5/15/2009 17:10 UltimateBet.Com Bronze VIP 0 {65A4971C-F69D-4257-A446-FD6A401E1B8D} 45:55.2 26:29.1 Television 26:29.1 Ontario Y N PW 0 0 0 03:4

To me this is the most interesting record of the three, and its account name was deleted from these records. The Boise street address (Cascade St.) corresponds to a listing for Beckley's mom, Debbie, but it's the "" entry that warrants further digging. I would characterize that as a lead as to where some small bit of money might have went, as one can follow the domain link to various Beckley business-network entries, such as this info from Naymz:

It's no longer really a question of what happened to millions from the AP funds -- it's more a process of identifying all the possible channels that might have been used. Since Beckley's up for sentencing fairly soon, I'd be remiss in my civic duty if I didn't do my part to open up Cascade Developments as an operation worth investigating.

Monday, January 30, 2012

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

General update time here at the JC corral, where work continues apace. As a lot of you faithful readers have figured out, we've pushed the book back a ways from its planned late-2011 release, in large part because important news keeps happening and new sources keep coming forward. There's been a flurry of both just in the last six or eight weeks, from Brent Beckley surrendering to DOJ officials on the AP side to the new civil lawsuit filed against Excapsa and a pile of as-yet-unnamed John Does, whoch is directed more at the old UB.

I keep interviewing and writing and meshing different tales against one other, and with each passing day the proverbial "complete picture" becomes a little more clear. I'm really glad we didn't try to put out a rushed version of the book in time for the holidays, even if that is a disappointment for those of you want the whole story right now. I get it, I really do. Still, the emergence of the story takes time, just as I always said it would.

One expected problem of late was a recent hard-drive failure which cost me a pretty penny to repair, because it occurred just a couple of days after having received information connected to that massive UB/AP data leak several weeks back. While I had most of the data backed up already, I was temporarily without a few key pieces, though those have now also been restored. Sorry to disappoint anyone who would have hoped my data was gone for good.

I've received another series of even more important UB files from a second source, but the leaked AP/UB files do contain many entries with information worth knowing. For instance, what happens if you look for accounts connected with "Russ Hamilton" or "Russell Hamilton"?

Excluding a couple of unfortunate folks who were born with the same name but were unconnected with the R. Hamilton widely known within the poker world, a search of the leaked files provides some interesting hits. Here's one such:

Russ Hamilton United States 4668866 ##158476 11/24/2008 22:24 UltimateBet 133140 0 7035.4 0 11/24/2008 22:24 UltimateBet.Com 7035.4 Blacklist User 299 Male 14872 9/16/2003 0:00 Affiliate Chernihiv Obla Ukraine Y 0 0 0

This is the complete record for one Russ account that was used in the cheating, though it appears to have had much of its data munged after the fact by the bosses at Absolute Poker. Hamilton's real e-mail addy was wiped and replaced with "", the "#158476" was written over the screen-name field, hiding its original name, but the "Blacklist User" status was... correct.

The "11/24/2008" date seems to be a last-account-activity date, and I'd believe that, too, though a deeper look reveals that some large batch processes were done around this time. But for which cheating account this name was changed we may never know, since this comes from files transferred over to AP and then moved into the wilds of black-hat marketing by former Costa Rican workers jilted by their former Absolute Poker bosses. One of the "0" entries corresponds to the real-money entries, too; there were no funds left in this account as of 2011.

(By the way, that "Chernihiv Obla, Ukraine" crap is part of what appears to be a separate corporate scheme to defraud electronic payment processors into handling payments to and from US players. ALL US players have a similar entry in a series of extra records serving no other purpose.)

Russ's wife Carolyn's "SLOOP" account was also blacklisted, though it was left more or less intact, including a Las Vegas address already tied to the scandal in certain other records published a couple of years back. Yet Carolyn Hamilton has no known connection to the actual cheating herself, and whether or not this account was used for any transfer activity is no more than open conjecture.

But more on Russ. There should be no doubt that the "-RUSSH-" account was his:

Russ hamilton United States (a real Russ H. address) 6217835 -RUSSH- 7/2/1949 las vegas NV 89134 11/24/2008 23:43 UltimateBet 100000 0 3.31 0 11/24/2008 23:43 UltimateBet.Com 3.31 Blacklist User 299 Male 14872 Affiliate Batna Algeria Y NV 0 0 0

No money in this account, either. But the "7/2/1949" entry seems to be Hamilton's real date of birth, although it differs slightly from the DOB data in the next account, and this account was apparently blacklisted along with the other one. The "6217835" was the account number after new account numbers were reassigned on the Cereus platform; neither it nor the other entries are the original UB account numbers.

And then there's this record, which to me is the funniest of all:

Russ Hamilton United States (real RH e-mail) (another real RH address) 02/22/1947 Las Vegas NV 7450438 APS POTRIPPER 80231 11/25/2008 0:35 8500 0 (real phone number) 0 0 11/25/2008 0:35 UltimateBet.Com Blacklist User 299 Male Other Madrid Spain Y NV 0 0 0

Another blacklisted account. A 1947 DOB instead of 1949, and a thank-you to whichever reader first verifies which one is real. However, the real hilarity is that this account's original screen name was overlaid with the entry "APS POTRIPPER". Why that, of all things?

There's only one real logical answer. It's because these originated from Cereus Network-era files, and the AP bosses had to know that common customer-service employees would be curious enough to enter "Russ Hamilton" into their consoles to see what turned up. These AP executives' efforts to cover their own tracks were ongoing, and if they could get some non-thinking workers to believe the lies that "Potripper" was AJ Green or anyone else but Scott Tom, so much the better.

But Russ Hamilton as Absolute Poker's POTRIPPER? Don't you believe it.