Wednesday, January 27, 2021


(Author's note: This 11th entry in the series on Ben Mezrich's fraudulent take on the Absolute Poker scandal wasn't part of the original series. Instead, I wrote this after Mezrich decided that doing an interview with PokerNews, which had at least some idea of the truth behind AP's corruption and theft, would still somehow be a good idea. It didn't go well. -- hh)

14th September 2013

Ben Mezrich’s laughable “true story” about the workings of Absolute Poker, Straight Flush, is back in the news this week courtesy of a Mezrich interview about the book done by Matt Parvis of PokerNews, the same guy who did the “Lederer Files” video interview last year.

I tend to not view PokerNews’ interiews or general fluffed-news approach very highly, but since I was mentioned repeatedly in that interview by both Mezrich and Parvis, and that other poker-media outlets are expecting a response to the interview, I’ll oblige with a special Part 11 — a debunking of the latest Mezrich silliness.

To fill in our newer readers on the backstory, I published a 10-part series on Mezrich’s latest book back in early June, beginning it just days after the book’s release. Ten parts might seem like overkill, but the intent was to clarify, point by point, how chock full of lies and how fraudulent a literary effort Straight Flush was. Whereas Mezrich’s book was a made-up fairy tale based on the image rehabilitation that Absolute Poker’s frat-boy founders wanted, my series was a factual evisceration that ranged from the falsified timeline of events as presented by Mezrich to the glossing over of the blatant illegalities undertaken by the AP crew, such as being one of the first online sites to offer blackjack to the US market in a time when it was strictly illegal.

Here are the links to the ten parts of that original series, which was my former site's highest ever in terms of overall readership. (Links pending but available on Twitter-- hh):

Part 1: The Elements of Deception

Part 2: The Imperative Blackjack Omission

Part 3: The Biggest Lie about the Plane-Crash Story

Part 4: The Return of the Unnamed Low-Level Employee

Part 5: The Scandal Timeline Falsification

Part 6: Ignoring Scott Tom’s Funds-Transfer Incrimination

Part 7: The Payment-Processing and Banking Falsifications

Part 8: The Ridiculous Lifestyle Justifications

Part 9: Reselling a Faked Corporate Sale

Part 10: Assorted Hilarities, Links and Reviews

I wasn’t even aware of the PN interview’s publication this week until I was mentioned in connection with it on Twitter yesterday.  Parvis and Mezrich agreed to the interview way back in late June, and it appears the interview was done back then and then sat on by Parvis and PN for a couple of months while they figured out what to do with it.

I also admit I didn’t have a lot of faith in Parvis’s ability to press Mezrich on difficult questions, given Parvis’s considerable failure at that in the “Lederer Files” tapes, but to his credit he did a significantly better job of it this time around. If there’s a hole in Parvis’s interviewing game that he has yet to fix, is that he has yet to learn how to step back after a dodged question, then re-ask the subject a similar question in “yes” or “no” terms. As demonstrated ad nauseum with Lederer, Parvis tends to cede control and allow the interviewee to make speeches. Still, this effort was better.

Where yours truly entered the mix was in some of the most blatant snow-jobbinging served up Mezrich in Straight Flush, particularly as detailed in parts five, six, and to a lesser extent part three, of this series. That’s the timeline-falsification stuff, first and foremost.

It’s necessary to excerpt a good chunk of the PN/Mezrich interview to examine this, but since it’s in large part about me and my work, it’s clearly fair use:

[PN / Parvis] To me, the cash portion of that story is interesting, but the timeline which Haley Hintze wrote extensively about in a series of articles about your book is more interesting. In reality, the plane crash happened in early September and the cheating incident happens after the plane crash. In the book this series of events is reversed, which is a big change.

[Mezrich] So I talked to the guys about this. They said the cheating was ongoing for about seven weeks and within that time period, the plane crash happened. So they are maintaining that within the period of the cheating scandal a plane crash happened. In the book, the chronology might be compressed in a way that it looks differently but it is all in the same time period. I don’t think I was dating the chapters.

[PN] But, in the book the trip that Scott takes on the plane is his swan song after leaving the company because of the cheating incident. Then the plane crashes. In reality, the big event, the major tournament in which players were cheated was actually after the plane crash. September 12th, and it came out in October.

[Mezrich] I don’t know when the discussions took place between Scott and the group about the cheating. So somewhere in there the plane crash happened. The timeline discussed, was how they told the story. They maintain they had this discussion with Scott and the crash happened when they were leaving the company. Whether or not the AP press releases came out after the crash or before, Scott & Hilt feel strongly they were leaving the company when they left with the plane. I don’t believe I dated these chapters specially because this whole period was uncertain. That’s how they told the story. My guess is that the cheating happened during this time period. They confronted Scott about the cheating and so Scott got on the plane to go. Then the press releases came out from AP saying they got rid of someone. My guess is their chronology is probably accurate.

I feel like the only reason Haley Hintze has a problem with that is she feels there is an agenda placing a plane crash there. When there really wasn’t an agenda because there was no money on the plane. I feel very confident there was no money on the plane.

[PN] Why do you feel so confident?

[Mezrich] For one, there is no evidence. All there was were articles from the places like the Ti[c]o Times. It started with some blog claiming there was money on this plane. If you’ve read any of my books I really want there to be money on that plane because that’s a great scene. I wrote a book called Busting Vegas where there was money on a plane. First of all, the FAA took over the crash site, and so did the Costa Rican government. There were no reports of money. Where is this money now?

[PN] Well, the Costa Rican government used the “money on the plane” theory to search Scott Tom’s house.

[Mezrich] Why did he run off the plane? Why didn’t he go get his money? I’ve written about people who have been on planes with money. Trust me, they always go get the money. No one leaves $3 million on an airplane, especially a plane that is sitting on a runway in Costa Rica. Why would he not take his money off the plane? The whole idea came from one blog that got picked up by newspapers and we all know how newspapers are written. It’s very easy to write an article like that. I could put an article on the Boston Globe tomorrow about money being on that plane and it would get carried all over the Internet. I don’t think there was any money on the plane. If you can show me proof like an FAA report of confiscated money or an FBI report about confiscated money then I will agree. …

We’ll get to the plane crash in greater detail in a moment, but Mezrich’s willingness to falsify the order of events is crystal clear. Mezrich also accuses me of having an agenda, and he’s right — I want to get the truth out there, and a mass-market piece of crap such as his book does nothing but bury that truth, which is what the AP frat boys want. One sideline insinuation served up by others remains unanswered by Mezrich: A yes-or-no declaration as to whether he was commissioned in any form by Scott Tom or any other AP founder or owner to write that book.

But the plane crash is oh so curious, whether or not there was money on that private jet. It occurred on September 12, 2007, and Scott Tom and Hilt Tatum and their wives/girlfriends hopped another plane the next day and resumed their week-long jaunt in the Caribbean; they only waited 24 hours because Scott’s girlfriend was pregnant and officials wanted to keep her overnight for observation. And indeed the crash was fully documented by Costa Rican authorities. Mezrich just lies, as always. Further, the anecdote about the $3 million in cash was true all along, and it triggered a separate investigation by Costa Rican authorities into Absolute Poker's real operations.

The series of screen grabs I published on my own poker blog a couple of years later showed what happened next: A rush of high-stakes cheating done from different locations throughout the Caribbean, mirroring Scott Tom’s known movements, and using several different accounts linked to Scott Tom personal — GRAYCAT, DOUBLEDRAG and others. Then, once Scott returned to Costa Rica, the infamous POTRIPPER tourney occurred. It wasn’t done from his office, as Mezrich insinuated as a possibility; it was done from Scott Tom’s home, though that was quite the set-up, with the ability to run a couple dozen computers at once.

Lots of people know who sent me those screen grabs, and they were available to others within the poker world before I published. No one who knows where they came from has ever doubted that they are genuine, and the weird details within some of the accounts are so bizarre that no outsider could have faked them, such as renaming the not-real owner of one Scott Tom-controlled account as “Jaeson,” almost certainly in honor of a bartender named Jaeson back in AP’s Seattle-founding days who could be found as a friend on Tom’s then-public Facebook page. No outsider would know enough to make up a detail such as that.

So I just laugh at an early quote from Mezrich, claiming his own superior journalistic standards:

I saw a screenshot (of some of the evidence) but what am I really looking at there? Show me where that came from, give me the affidavits for the people who posted that. If you were able to give me all of that then I would have something to go on. As a blogger it seems you can write whatever you want, but as a journalist writing a book you can’t.

So newspapers and media outlets and authors and reporters aren’t allowed to research stories on their own, Mr. Mezrich? And where are your affidavits, sir, for what you claim to be a true story? You, sir, are lying scum. This is your career modus operandi, to publish as salacious a bushelful of lies as you can package together, then hustle off to your next "non-fiction" project.

Mezrich claims he looked at “a screen grab,” though I published dozens, and his method of dealing with the facts presented therein was just to utterly ignore them all. And just to clarify, I’ve never heard anyone else call Mezrich a journalist, as he claims he is. He doesn’t deserve that title.

Let’s move on to agendas. Near the end of the PN interview, Mezrich calls Straight Flush his “best-sourced book.” Once I regained consciousness, having passed out from uncontrollable laughter, I decided to examine that claim. Whether or not there was money on that plane is not a topic that either Mezrich or I can prove or disprove years after the fact, from the comfort of our seats. However, Mezrich’s claim that the money on the plane was a rumor from a single blog is a significant distortion.

That rumor started there, on a well-connected, prominent sportsbetting blog, but it was long forgotten when the confirmation appeared nearly three years later, in not one, but several, news reports from Costa Rica and one from Panama as well, citing a senior official from the OIJ, Costa Rica’s version of the FBI. Mezrich dismisses that in a vaguely racist way, dissing the news reports as third-world nonsense while denigrating the title of one of Costa Rica’s English-language outlets, the Tico Times.

Maybe if Mezrich understood the culture a little better, he’d understand why the money-on-the-plane story is highly plausible. And if he actually got the whole story about AP from the frat boys he interviewed, instead of just the filtered fantasies, he’d kick it up to highly likely.

There are two strong possibilities for why Scott Tom and Hilt Tatum would have money on that jet, actually three… if you consider that it may have been just a little bit of money-laundering. Yet the cheating evidenced by the POTRIPPER tourney was frantic, blatant and nonsensical, and it spoke of a need for immediate cash. Oh, wait, that plane crash just a couple of days before, where it was rumored dufflebags full of cash were seized?

Nonsense, sez Ben, just because an honest type like Scott Tom told him so. Here’s a news flash for Mezrich: Cheating and lying is often a pathological bevahior; Scott Tom’s claim that he had no motive to steal because he already had money is rubbish.

Now, here’s a couple of little scoops that Ben never got to. When I first heard about the crash and realized that the crashed plane’s first scheduled stop was Cartegena, Columbia, I had to wonder if major drug purchases were involved. However, that scenario didn’t hold water. Not only did it fail to explain the frantic urgency of the cheating, it puts Scott and Hilt at unnecessary personal risk, since by all insider accounts the frat boys — whoever among them was using — could get drugs in Costa Rica with ease.  Cartegena was also almost exactly halfway from Costa Rica to Antigua. It was a planned refueling stop, nothing more.

But there was something else going on in the Caribbean, two something elses, in fact. First, in 2007 AP essentially took over the operations of the UltimateBet Aruba Classic, and company insiders have reported that that tourney required hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to be allowed to operate smoothly. It took the AP boys by surprise; they didn’t realize how much Russ Hamilton spent on that.  And it also would have taken cash, lots of it, and Russ used to move money down there all the time for this and other purposes.

Then there was the secret land-based casino project undertaken by Scott Tom and the other AP insiders. The project had a name, and I’ve got that buried somewhere in my e-mails, and it was supposed to be in Antigua. As with the Aruba tourney, it allegedly required plenty of grease to even get to the point of being considered by Antiguan officials, and it eventually fell apart along with the rest of AP. But apart from the tens of millions siphoned off from AP by the frat boys and moved into Caribbean real estate, it’s another likely answer for where a lot of the real stolen money went.

It is not at all surprising that Ben Mezrich was clueless as to the existence of this casino plan.

So money on the plane remains a very viable possibility. Now, Mezrich claims that he would have loved for there to have been money on the plane, but that is a secret the AP boys would have dared not share, given the ongoing seizure efforts against AP by both American and Norwegian authorities, which were still in progress while Mezrich did his interviews.

Why then, did Mezrich even include the plane story? And why did he falsify its telling so thoroughly so as to place it after the public discovery of the cheating? As clearly detailed by Parvis in his questioning, Mezrich insists that Scott Tom and Hilt Tatum got on that plane to depart the company, since all the blame for the cheating had been heaped on Tom, boo hoo hoo.

It’s a ridiculous lie. The outing of Tom as the probable cheater wouldn’t occur for several more weeks, even though internally, all the AP execs knew that the accounts being accused of of cheating by the site’s players were Scott Tom’s own accounts. Those accounts were specially tagged in September, though the cheating wasn’t proven by outsiders until October.

We have a problem here. Mr. Mezrich’s literary lies here are inescapable. When pressed by Parvis, the best Mezrich could come up with was [emphasis on fact-fudging mine]:

I don’t know when the discussions took place between Scott and the group about the cheating. So somewhere in there the plane crash happened. The timeline discussed, was how they told the story. They maintain they had this discussion with Scott and the crash happened when they were leaving the company. Whether or not the AP press releases came out after the crash or before, Scott & Hilt feel strongly they were leaving the company when they left with the plane. I don’t believe I dated these chapters specially because this whole period was uncertain. That’s how they told the story. My guess is that the cheating happened during this time period. They confronted Scott about the cheating and so Scott got on the plane to go. Then the press releases came out from AP saying they got rid of someone. My guess is their chronology is probably accurate.

That’s an “I don’t know” and two “my guess”-es from a so-called “true story” writer, and if he claims that this whole period was uncertain as to timing, it means he either ignored or didn’t bother to research the facts of how the AP scandal was exposed.

That’s disgusting and shameful. But notice this line: “They confronted Scott about the cheating and so Scott got on the plane to go.”

If that’s true, then this confirms that the AP execs knew that Scott Tom was the primary cheater for several weeks before public evidence of Scott Tom’s involvement emerged five weeks later, all while the site denied that there was any cheating going on and then blamed it on a low-level employee. However, since that Pete Barovich anecdote about the AP cover-up is in the book and precedes the plane-crash saga, Mezrich’s timeline is garbage anyway.

And at last we return to agendas — who has them, and who doesn’t. There is only one plausible explanation for Ben Mezrich to include and falsify the timing of the plane-crash story and to ignore all the other evidence of Scott Tom’s involvement. Mezrich must propagate this sham in order to portray Scott Tom as a sympathetic antihero. If he cannot upsell Scott Tom, Ben Mezrich cannot sell movie rights, nor milk his own personal fame. Mezrich has millions of reasons to want to not believe that Scott Tom isn’t the crook that all the evidence says Scott Tom really is.

It’s Mezrich with the truth-hiding agenda, and no one else.

And that’s why this PN interview is crud, just another lame attempt at spin by a literary fraud who’s fled serious questioning on poker forums and has blocked at least a dozen people who have challenged his lies on Twitter. For a true-story writer, Ben Mezrich shows a remarkable disdain for answering the tough questions truthfully, honestly and directly. Straight Flush remains a fraud of a book, and another mealy disclaimer by its author changes nothing.

Even Matt Parvis, the interviewer, comfirmed Mezrich’s dithering around the truth. In a short Twitter response to yours truly when this interview came up, Parvis posted, “[Mezrich] certainly seemed confused about this entire chronology.”

That’s a polite way of saying Mezrich’s claims make no sense. Now ask yourself why that might be.


19th June 2013

Ben Mezrich’s latest literary fraud, Straight Flush, continues to amaze the poker world with its blatant rewriting of history regarding Absolute Poker and the crooked college frat boys who ran the company. The first nine parts of this series detailed some of the worst literary sins Mezrich committed in this book, and it’d be easy to go on in the same vein through Part 25 or thereabouts.

But enough is enough; the guy’s a liar sitting at a keyboard, and a few more words here toting up those lies won’t really change that. When one considers those frauds, which range from gross historical inaccuracies to imperative omissions to falsification of the book’s timeline, Straight Flush is actually nothing more than a piece of mediocre fiction using some real people and events as props.

Mezrich himself continues on a publicity tour designed to keep him from answering any hard questions about the book, and every time he’s tried to out-argue his critics, he’s fled quickly in the face of the facts being flung at him. This Ben Mezrich book thread at 2+2 is just one of several prominent examples, wherein the fraudulent writer appears and then takes a flier, seemingly never to return, when facing some of the same hard questions posed in this series.

Before fleeing into the night when asked to comment on his book’s falsified timeline, Mezrich instead served up gems such as, “Some like the way I write my nonfiction, others don’t; that’s the nature of the beast.” Which utterly ignores the fact that what people are irate about is the “non” part of his fiction.

Mezrich was even stupid enough to slap many of AP’s victims directly in the face, writing, “The truth is, the vast majority of people who lost money on Black Friday did not lose money because of cheating, or because of Scott Tom; IMO, they lost money because the DOJ shut the business down, froze assets; shady processors vanished with millions of dollars, many millions more were used to pay off employees because of costa rican laws, and millions more went to lawyers for legal defense. If Black Friday had not occurred, players would not have lost that money. Unfortunately, the company didn’t have a big enough war chest to pay off its accounts, and many people were devastated. All of that is presented in the book.”

That’s an amazing collection of lies. First of all, the site was supposed to have maintained segregated player accounts, particularly after oversight of Absolute Poker’s corporate activities were purportedly under close scrutiny after the exposure of the Scott Tom-led cheating in late 2007. When Black Friday occurred; the company had $55 million in liability to its players alone, and only $5 million in its “war chest”. That’s not a war chest at all; that’s a looting of the company’s liquid assets.

I’ve since verified the internal Costa Rican IDS memo concerning the employee-severance needs, which I published myself back in 2010. That total (which was duly paid, under threat of exposure of AP’s money-laundering activities, was $2.75 million. Compared to the $55 million of missing player funds, that’s a drop in the bucket.

Here’s Scott Tom’s head of processing at Innovative Data Solutions, Olman Rimola, threatening Scott Tom’s and Hilt Tatum’s hand-picked corporate head of AP and the Cereus Network, Paul Leggett, from April 29, 2011 (plus or minus one day), two weeks after Black Friday:

Hi Paul,

The company always has deposited IDS operational expenses.

The liquidation for all IDS employees is USD$2,750,000.

This amount has not been deposited yet into IDS bank account.

If next Tuesday, May 3rd, this amount has not been deposited in IDS bank account, I will face all IDS employees and I will explain this situation. After that, I will go to the US Embassy and I will contact FBI agents, who are right now in Costa Rica, and I will reveal all the information I have of Absolute Poker and UltimateBet operations, including full detail of original shareholders, corporate structure, processing procedures, all related companies, lawyers, executives, bank statements, bank wires, emails and instructions I have received, etc. FBI will be more than glad in to grant me immunity exchanging this information.

Just a reminder, if anything happens to me, or people close to me, I have prepared 3 sets of this information which are in hands of 3 different lawyers, with instructions to proceed with US Embassy and Costa Rican authorities.

I feel sorry about ending our relationship like this way, but my IDS employees are first.

Best regards,

Olman RÌmola

Absolute Poker was as fraudulent an operation as ever graced the online poker world, and the above is evidence of what happens when a criminal corporate enterprise goes under. Leggett and Rimola, despite their prominent roles, are among two of the many prominent AP people or corporate entities who don’t even appear in the pages of Straight Flush. You won’t find IDS, nor room manager Gian Perroni, nor Mark Seif, the prominent pro who was onboard at AP about the same time Brent Beckley joined the mix.

You sure won’t find Stuart Gordon and Blanca Games and that whole faked-up ownership debacle.  You also won’t find Madeira Fjord or Avoine or even Greencat Holdings, almost assuredly one of the Toms’ ownership hiding nooks. Nor will you find any of the crooked lawyers; not surprising, that.

Omitting all those real “props” has a secondary effect the uneducated reader won’t ever know: Since the portrayal is so stilted, a number of very juicy anecdotes had to be left out of the book — which I guess is great for the next AP book that comes along.

Reviews for Straight Flush are all over the map, though both it and Mezrich himself are getting a well-deserved hammering at Amazon. The most insightful mainstream review comes from James McManus at the Wall Street Journal, as we’ve noted previously. 

Janet Maslin’s review at the New York Times thoroughly trashes the book on its writing demerits alone, without knowledge that the core story is itself a collection of lies. Maslin famously referred to Mezrich as a “baloney artist” for pulling off some of the crap he tries in Straight Flush in his earlier work.

And of those works, it’s interesting to note that Straight Flush‘s blatant fraudulence echoes that of another Mezrich effort, The Accidental Billionaires. A lot of that book’s core story is falsified as well, covering up a rather different history of Facebook that allegedly includes a stolen core concept and a hacking into Harvard servers by Mark Zuckerberg, the famed Facebook founder. Aaron Greenspan, the author of Authoritas: One Student’s Harvard Admissions and the Founding of the Facebook Era, asserts that he was the inventor of a pre-Facebook system at Harvard called houseSYSTEM that was not only emulated by Facebook, but actually used the term “Facebook” as part of its operations.

Greenspan eventually sued Mezrich, Mezrich’s personal corporation, Random House Books and Sony Corporation over the falsehoods that wound up in the book and in the resulting movie, The Social Network. Greenspan lost that case on what appears to be very narrow grounds, though not before it reached the US Supreme Court. The takeaway of all that is that Mezrich’s printed lies already have a history of generating lawsuits.

It’s a shame that the poker world is the latest niche market to be polluted by Mezrich’s falsehoods, but that’s what the guy’s about. Ben Mezrich is probably America’s greatest literary liar, though that’s a title no one should really want.

As for Straight Flush, it’s fully deserving of being awarded the “three degrees” treatment, as in the classic joke. The three degrees are B.S., M.S. and Ph.D, which, as the old saw states, stand for “Bull Shit,” “More of Same,” and “Piled Higher and Deeper.”

There will come a day when Mezrich’s books are yanked in disgrace from the non-fiction shelves. I, for one, can’t wait.


13th June 2013

Among the core lies served up by Ben Mezrich in Straight Flush, which is easily the biggest literary fraud of this decade, is that the primary members of the University of Montana SAE fraternity group that founded Absolute Poker left the company soon after AP became embroiled in troubles. The troubles themselves are clear: First came the legal difficulties presented by the UIGEA’s passage in late 2006, and then 2007’s fallout from the site’s insider cheating scandal, said cheating being led by AP founder Scott Tom himself.

The real explanation of why the cheating occurred stretches far beyond what a blog post like this could entail, but it was due primarily to the over-leveraging of the acquisition of the UltimateBet shortly after the UIGEA went into effect, followed by the frat boys’ adamant determination to continue on with their mad-spending, lifestyle. Nothing more than that, in the final evaluation: greed and self-indulgence know no bounds.

But with decades of lifespan in front of them, and with tens of stolen millions at their disposal, it’s little wonder the AP frat boys would want to rewrite history. The garbage you’ll read in Straight Flush (should you be conned into purchasing it) is part of that effort.

From the top:

Absolute Poker acquired UltimateBet in a shady deal worked on by a phalanx of prominent gaming lawyers that was designed to do two things: (a) continue producing revenue for both the UltimateBet and Absolute Poker shareholder groups; and (b) disguise the fact that both companies were still primarily US-owned.

The key to that, as the gaming laws explained was to “get the biggest Indian you can find.” I have that on tape, actually, in a statement made by later AP CEO Ron Janusz as he attempted to explain to cheated AP shareholders in teleconference calls why the shell constructs created by the lawyers were a great concept. I should know — I was patched into one of them.

The “biggest Indian” turned out to be Joseph Tokwiro Norton, former grand chief of the Kahnawake tribe and an instrumental player in the creation of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, the same entity that claimed to regulate AP. The sales, first of UB to AP, and then of both companies to Norton’s Tokwiro Enterprises, proved to be as fraudulent as everything else.

The first press releases claimed Norton made a $10 million cash payment as part of the purchase; a year later, that was revised to $5 million to better comply with an ongoing court case, and when the truth finally came out in documents related to the United States’ “Black Friday” case, it turned out Norton made no payment at all: he was merely sent a monthly stipend in exchange for being the “operator” of Absolute Poker, with no mention of “ownership” by Norton actually existing in later years’ press releases issued by the company.

It’s in this environment of a faked corporate sale that Ben Mezrich, in Straight Flush, tries to peddle the tale of Scott Tom and Oscar Hilt Tatum IV flying off into the metaphorical sunset, leaving the company in the hands of the remaining frat boys, including Pete Barovich, Garin Gustafson and Brent Beckley.

It didn’t happen that way at all. Instead, following the creation of the Tokwiro Enterprises fronting entity, the shareholders of Absolute Poker were split into two groups. The vast majority, more than 200 general shareholders not involved in the operation of the company, were shunted off to an ownership entity called Madeira Fjord. The key frat-boy employees — AP execs and primary owners all — had their shares buried into a different entity called Avoine-Servico de Consultadoria e Marketing. At least seven of the frat boys had their shares hidden there, in exchange for a slice of the gross revenues plus the irrevocable right to assume control of the company from Madeira Fjord at any future date.

That date came soon enough when Madeira Fjord was quickly forced into bankruptcy proceedings in Norway, where the entity was domiciled. Meanwhile, the actual assets of Absolute Poker itself came under United States seizure order in conjunction with the Black Friday court proceedings. Lo and behold, out of the woodwork came lawyers on behalf of Avoine, the frat boys’ secret ownership home, claiming that they were the real owners. Of course, the lawyers refused to disclose exactly who the shareholders of Avoine were, and the contents of an Avoine shareholder registry remain one of the most closely guarded of all Absolute Poker secrets to this very day.

But who was really in charge?  If you believe Mezrich’s nonsense in Straight Flush, Scott Tom and Hilt Tatum were long gone. Due to the layered way in which the company accrued its original shareholder investments, those two became the company’s most powerful players, among all the frat boys.

Mezrich’s claims that both Tom and Tatum left the company in late 2007 are garbage. Mezrich offers zero evidence, except for his own conversations with the two that they didn’t own the company any more. But real evidence? None.

On the other side, plenty of evidence exists. In the recently released Travis Makar recordings, which were secretly taped in 2008 by UB cheater Russ Hamilton as he tried to secure his own future, UB CEO Greg Pierson and UB legal counsel Daniel Friedberg can be heard talking about the UB/AP deal in several passages, and reiterate throughout that despite the involvement of Norton and the appearance of the new ownership shells, Tom and Tatum were still in charge of AP.

The largest of several tapes secretly made by Hamilton was nearly three hours in length and including huge swaths of revealing information about both UB and AP. (It's a bear to listen to and is no longer available online, though it existed on YouTube for several years. -- HH.)

Then there’s the story of Hilt Tatum’s wedding, moved from Florida to Paris in haste in late 2006 since none of the frat boys dared to return to the US. The St. Petersburg Times, in which the socialite affair of the Tatum-Bennett wedding occupied a year’s worth of lifestyle columns, found itself needing to run a news exposé on Absolute Poker after Black Friday, when hard evidence about AP’s real ownership was dumped in its lap by the jilted Madeira Fjord owners, who were robbed of promissory notes and continuing income worth at least $250 million.

That exposé was actually published in the cross-Bay Tampa Bay Times edition, but it also is no longer online. This passage, however, is exceptionally telling, in addition to being quite true:

Meanwhile, most of Absolute Poker’s shareholders were out of the loop and increasingly angry after dividends dried up in 2009. Though a few early investors bought in at 10 cents a share, late-comers paid as much as $3. Total payout amounted to only 18 cents a share. What about the windfall? It never came.

Shareholders heard that the founders were living luxuriously in Costa Rica and Panama, adding to their aggravation. [Richard] Borgner and Janusz told the shareholders that the founders left the poker operation years ago. Few disgruntled shareholders believed it.

Shawn Mesaros, a Seattle investor, said another shareholder raised questions about the company’s finances in late 2009 and immediately got two calls — one from Tom, the second from Tatum, who suggested a meeting.

“What would they care if they were no longer involved?” Mesaros asked.

I’ve spoken at length in recent years with both Mesaros and the other shareholder, who was part of a Seattle firefighters investment group who seemingly became financial prey in the talons of the greedy Phil Tom. The calls from Scott Tom and Hilt Tatum indeed took place, and I received much additional information as well.

As one would expect, once the company was collapsed and its shell games exposed, the Avoine-housed frat boys still dared to try and wrest control of the few remaining assets, namely the software and the player database. When did that effort finally end?

Last week, when the US government finally received a decree with prejudice that bars all existing and future Avoine claims against the assets of AP. For all the noise made by Tom, Tatum, Brent Beck, Pete Barovich and the others through the pages of the fraudulent Straight Flush, the SAE boys were still in there trying to grab for themselves, right to the very last. The jilted AP players, who are still owed at least $55 million left unrefunded when the site went under, are unlikely to get any money in any event, since the actual value of these assets is small.

Nonetheless, any chance of even a few pennies on the dollar being returned rests with those assets being liquidated by the US government, the same entity the SAE frat boys continued to battle all the way until last week.

The lies in Straight Flush? They run nonstop, start to finish. It’s an abomination of a book. Shame on Ben Mezrich. Shame on William Morris Books for publishing it. And shame on the frat boys themselves, though they moved beyond shame for their actions years ago.


10th June 2013

This time out, let’s veer away from the tedious but factual evidence presented in this lengthy series’ previous posts, all of which reveals the massive literary fraud of author Ben Mezrich in his faked “true story” of the rise and fall of Absolute Poker, Straight Flush.

Instead, let’s share a little bit of insight into what makes Ben the Writer tick — the way he manipulates his readers into somehow believing that the Absolute Poker thieves were good people.   After all, that’s Mezrich’s real job. If he can’t make the likes of Scott Tom and Brent Beckley sympathetic, then the book’s a flop. Along the way we’ll toss in a few real facts as well, just to contrast with Mezrich’s fraud.

The apex of the AP frat boys’ hedonistic parabola had to be AP’s sponsorship of a gray Ferrari driven by former NETeller CIO Jeff Natland (who managed not to be indicted when NETeller was targeted by US feds only months later) into the Gumball 3000 rally, a global tour and neverending party that ended up with a party at Hugh Hefner’s Los Angeles Playboy Mansion. One AP insider wryly commented about Mezrich’s failure to offer any sort of justification for what company wags referred to as “Scott Tom’s $500,000 festival of alcohol,” while ignoring the harsher reality as well.

This Absolute Poker party scene, mostly in Costa Rica but at times spanning the globe, ran for several years and was paid for out of AP’s corporate coffers. Nightly bottle service at San Jose’s most exclusive clubs was just one facet of the myriad extravagances paid for with other people’s money, but the sobering reality is that the party activity drained millions and millions from AP’s bottom line, and was itself a significant contributing factor to why there was no money left when the piper finally came calling.

It’s a shameless exploitation by writer Mezrich of his readers’ expectations, most of whom will never learn that the vicarious thrills they’ve paid for in purchasing this book aren’t real. Instead, Mezrich just plays to base instincts, the facts be damned.

Examples abound in Straight Flush, which features multiple episodes of the frat boys’ alcoholic exploits across the globe. Here’s Mezrich at his most purple, over-describing a blotto and barfing Brent Beckley stumbling around the innards of the Monte Carlo Casino:

“The party had been beyond extravagant: a buffet that seemed to go on for miles, offering everything from piles of stone-crab legs the length of baseball bats to vats of beluga caviar that could have filled a sandbox; four working bars staffed by a half dozen staggeringly beautiful bartenders, all amazonian Eastern Europeans who looked like they’d stepped off the set of a James Bond movie.”

And all on their best behavior, except for Beckley, who is “out-of-his-mind drunk… after the fifth shot of sambuca had hit the back of his throat.” After suffering through Straight Flush passages like the above, Beckley shouldn’t be the only one struggling with gag reflexes.

2006 in particular was a year of extravagant spending by the AP boys: the Gumball 3000 rally, which spanned several weeks; the Monte Carlo fete; and Hilt Tatum’s Paris wedding, among way too many other similar trips from that span of the company’s existence.

Hilt’s December 2006 wedding to St. Petersburg (FL) socialite Sarah Bennett is mentioned only in passing in Straight Flush, it being another of the many tales in the book whose real truths swim barely beneath the fiction Mezrich spreads.  The wedding, originally scheduled for Florida, was quickly rescheduled for Paris after the October ’06 signing of the UIGEA, as the company’s execs feared that any trip into the States might result in their arrests. 

The whole lead-up to the Tatum-Bennett wedding was itself quite public, as Bennett’s mom, Lennie Bennett, wrote a year-long series on the wedding in addition to her regular literary duties as art critic for the St. Petersburg Times. (Later, the St. Petersburg Times quietly removed the story from its website, which had formely been available at As one would expect, the real reason why the wedding was hustled over to France never quite made it into the SPT features.

Even as the AP frat boys took these steps to stay away from possible incarceration, what they told to their customers had a wholly different flavor. The company even issued a press release immediately following the signing of the UIGEA, in which the company essentially thumbed their corporate noses at the US Congress. The release offered comment such as this:

“We are confident that our business, and that of our partners and suppliers, will be unaffected because while the U.S. Congress’ efforts potentially could block transactions conducted within the U.S. banking system, many of our payment providers transactions are done within the framework of the international banking system, which the U.S. Congress has no control over.”

There's a lesson here for US players regarding unregulated sites in general. While there have been a few good, responsible ones, many others were not to be trusted, because when push came to shove, the site operators would run off with the money. Absolute Poker proved itself to be one such operation wholly undeserving of its customers' trust. Caveat emptor.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021


10th June 2013

If you haven’t checked in on the story of the massive literary fraud perpetrated upon the reading public by Ben Mezrich in Straight Flush, then there’s no time like the present. Mezrich’s printed lies about the Absolute Poker scandal story run the entire gamut of writerly misdeeds, from falsification of his story’s timeline to the disregarding of visual factual evidence that proves the guilt of his book’s primary protagonists. A “true story,” Straight Flush isn’t.

Another shameful part of it all seems to be the unrelenting publicity war being undertaken by Mezrich and his publisher, William Morrow Books (a division of Harper-Collins), in pumping Mezrich into high-profile mainstream appearances over the last two weeks. Disgusting, it is, with not a single mainstream outlet to date bothering to investigate Mezrich’s misdeeds. When Mezrich Twitter-blocks the likes of numerous prominent poker people, one has to know that something is really, really wrong.

Today, we’ll take a look at another area where Mezrich’s latest is invariably laughable — his reworking of all the banking and payment-processing anecdotes associated with Absolute Poker’s rise and fall. There’s the story that AP founder Scott Tom and his SAE frat-boy brethren want the public to believe, and then there’s the story as it really is. Let’s show some examples taken directly from Mezrich’s alternate reality:

• Somehow managing to merge two separate federal investigations into Absolute Poker’s payment-processing activities into one. Straight Flush begins with a first-person account of Brent Beckley, one of the six SAE frat brothers the book, nobly surrendering himself to US authorities in the wake of his “Black Friday” criminal indictment on multiple felony counts. The Linwood Payment Solutions cash seizures had nothing to do with the Black Friday indictments for which Beckley was indicted. They were separate cases.

• Beckley claiming that he quickly saved Absolute Poker millions by getting the processing rate lowered from 8% to 4% at one of the major processors handling the site’s transactions. A huge lie. The market rate was indeed 4%, but Beckley actually had the rate at a key processor lowered to 6%. It was important, however, to state the 4%, because industry insiders would recognize that. Per an inside source who was privy to the business details and has provided alternate information to this writer, the other 2% went right into the pockets of Tom, Tatum, Beckley and the others via a kickback from the processor involved.

• Beckley claiming that the US government ignored his plans to reimburse players via an AP plan that would have refunded as much as 75 cents on the dollar. This is pure fantasy. First, Beckley himself acknowledges that the company had no more than $15 million in liquid assets at the time of the “Black Friday” takedown of the site, despite assurances to its regulators that player funds were segregated. Absolute Poker owes players — most of them in the United States — more than $55 million to this day.

It’s a baseless, fraudulent claim proffered by Mezrich. He writes that Absolute Poker’s “payment processors — shady middlemen in the best of times — simply disappeared, along with whatever money they owed the players and the company.”

That’s a two-layered lie right there. First, the processors (shady or not) are the legal agents of Absolute Poker. Those processors didn’t owe the players, Absolute Poker did, despite Mezrich’s deplorable twisting of language. Second, all the money seized from various Absolute Poker payment-processing accounts in connection with the Black Friday charges amounted to between $5 and $7 million.

An additional $4 million or so went to satisfy the unemployment claims of the 400 workers laid off from Scott Tom’s Costa Rica customer service firm, IDS, and that money had to be paid before any player claims could even be considered. That left less than $5 million in available liquid assets. The only partial truth to any of this, as it’s mis-recalled on p. 282, is that the lawyers got a little bit of whatever was left.

It’s all garbage, all of it. Absolute Poker’s core execs had already looted the company, and there weren’t any segregated funds anywhere to satisfy player claims. And Mezrich himself tries to bury the proof.

See, that Linwood Processing case, mentioned above? It’s part of the same farcical absolution of responsibility spun first by Brent Beckley, and then by Mezrich.  Linwood Processing was a sting operation set up by Maryland-based ICE (part of Homeland Security) agents, and yes, Absolute Poker did lose some funds there, but only a fraction of what was seized of the $50 million later Beckley claimed to be processed through the site over two years on behalf of AP.  Money flows rapidly through these sites; it doesn’t stay inside them.

For the record, the Maryland feds seized $33 million, but that was from several major sportsbook sites, ten in all, in addition to Absolute Poker. Estimates vary widely as to how much came from AP coffers and how much came from online bookies such as BetEd.

Meanwhile, Beckley allows that his name was all over the Linwood processing, but fails to mention that his name was all over all of the illicit processing on behalf of Absolute Poker, no matter what processor or banking channel was involved. However, mentioning all those other shady arrangements might lose the expected punch from telling about the one time Beckley stuck his neck into the noose of a giant ICE sting operation. Mezrich muddles ICE/Homeland Security with FBI, but as a prominent attorney verified to me shortly after I published this post, these were indeed two separate investigations, by different agencies.

To the contrary, Linwood was just a tiny piece of the AP operation. This stuff was the guy’s job, after all. No indictments were handed down from the Linwood seizures, while the charges against Beckley emanated from separate processing agreements on behalf of Absolute Poker, involving some of the other third-party processors also listed in the Black Friday indictment.


5th June 2013

Here’s more visual evidence for those souls who still might not be convinced that Ben Mezrich’s new book, Straight Flush, is a gigantic literary fraud. As I’ve previously detailed, the book is a celebration of the criminal antics of the University of the Montana frat boys who oversaw the rise and fall of online-poker site Absolute Poker.

Swaths of Straight Flush‘s later pages are devoted by Mezrich to the propagation of the frat boys’ lies; namely, that they had no responsibility for the cheating scandal that wracked the site in 2007. Mezrich places AP founder Scott Tom on a pedestal and claims without any regard to the actual evidence that Tom was innocent of the cheating evidence that dogged him.

Previous posts in this series have shown how willingly Mezrich twists the timelines and falsifies the facts, rendering his style as less “mostly true” and more “not true at all”. A “true story” teller that can be shown to be a purveyor of lies ought to kick off a mainstream literary scandal, but only time will tell on that point. For today, there’s more of the hard visual evidence that firmly places Scott Tom as the ringleader of the insider cheating, through which millions of dollars were stolen from players.

Here’s the background: The infamous POTRIPPER tournament, lightly touched on in Straight Flush, was only one brief — albeit very blatant — instance of the cheating going on at Absolute Poker.  The final report on the cheating issued by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC) also identified several accounts that were used in cash-game cheating on the site, though it missed a couple that were used to shuffle money between cheating accounts, including POTCHOPPER, mentioned in a previous post.

Here is a timeline published by The Washington Post that includes a few high points of the AP cheating scandal as it was first understood.  It has a few of the details wrong, but it wasn’t that bad as a first mainstream try. The Post report, published on November 30, 2008, also included the official findings on the AP cheating as released by the KGC.

That KGC report was largely a whitewash, naming no one specifically due to the close involvement of former Kahnawake head Joe Norton with Absolute Poker. Still, they had to put in some facts, so they listed some of the other cheating accounts in addition to POTCHOPPER, including GRAYCAT, DOUBLEDRAG, STEAMROLLER and others, as noted in this series’ previous entry.

However, both Absolute Poker themselves and the KGC asserted that none of the money stolen from players ever left the site. This was a giant lie. Money indeed left the site and into the ePassporte account of Scott Tom.

The visual proof follows. These two images are transaction details for the GRAYCAT cheating account, which was both involved in the AP cheating directly and which also received transfers from other cheating accounts, in a manner similar to that employed by Russ Hamilton and others over at UltimateBet.

The GRAYCAT account was originally Phil Tom’s (Scott Tom’s father, and the Chairman of the Board of Absolute Poker), though the egoistic Phil preferred to play on his CHAIRMAN account. The GRAYCAT account itself was named for one of Phil Tom’s two pet kittens, which were imaginatively named Graycat and Blackcat, respectively.

Here is the transaction approval detail from Absolute Poker’s own internal security system for the GRAYCAT account, showing a key cashout from Absolute Poker to Scott Tom’s ePassporte account. (ePassporte was one of several e-wallets serving the gaming industry, and Tom’s full name is Scott Philip Tom.) The top three entries are the ones relevant to the cheating and the frantic coverup at AP in the wake of the POTRIPPER tourney;

This detail, however, didn’t show the amount. To find out that it was a $150,000 cashout, and that the supposed cheater as blamed by Scott Tom himself — Allan Grimard, a/k/a “AJ Green” — wasn’t really the primary cheat, we also need the related GRAYCAT transfer-history detail:

This clearly shows the two transactions being processed 9/16 and 9/17. The first and larger one, for $150,000, was forced through by Scott Tom himself, with the money moving into his own ePassporte account. Then a second smaller withdrawal was blocked by AJ, and the account was blacklisted, but only after most of the money had been removed. That money was still only a small portion of the $3 million lost in the jet accident, but was needed desperately by Scott Tom for some other purpose.

It all proves as a fraud Ben Mezrich’s published, grandiose lie of the “operations manager” (Grimard/Green) somehow screwing Scott Tom and the other AP founders. Bullshit. Scott Tom himself was the ringleader of the Absolute Poker cheating, and much of the site’s upper management was involved.

The AP bosses even munged the player-account information on GRAYCAT and the other cheating accounts, in a weak attempt to hide the nature of the cheating from the company’s own low-level employees. Here’s the overview for GRAYCAT:

The “Michael Edwards” email address is bogus and does not exist. The “Home Tel.” entry is actually Absolute Poker’s own 1-800 support number, to help identify this as an inside account, and the Address/City/Zip fields contain munged versions of the address of Phil Tom’s Seattle-area home, where Scott and the boys first developed the framework for AP. It is an inside account.

Now, the fun of it all. I first published these images three years ago, and they’ve been in the public domain ever since. These and other images were the basis of numerous major poker-industry news reports confirming Scott Tom’s involvement in the cheating. Those reports are the top entries for any Google searches including “Scott Tom” and “cheating” and simply couldn't have been overlooked by any writer — this means you, Ben Mezrich — doing any sort of legitimate research on the topic.

Instead, Mezrich chose to publish a book of lies, very likely accepting a large commission to accept the project. The truth about Straight Flush is that it's a disgusting, false slap in the face to all of Absolute Poker’s victims, those same people Mezrich now hopes to con into buying his worthless book.


4th June 2013

There may be no more greater literary sin than intentionally falsifying the sequence in which events occur in order to pass off lies as truth in the eyes and minds of the readers. It’s an abomination of a practice, and in Straight Flush, the new “true story” as penned by Ben Mezrich of the rise and fall of online-poker site Absolute Poker, it’s been carried to the extreme.

What’s even more sad is that this isn’t the first time Mezrich has resorted to this basest level of literary chicanery; such problems in understanding and communicating the basic flow of time have bedeviled Mezrich’s fanciful works ever since his first, famed effort, Bringing Down the House.

Let’s get right to the facts regarding the construction of Straight Flush, so that the readers here are left with no doubt as to who isn’t telling the truth. Straight Flush‘s internal chronology as laid out by Mezrich starts with the surrender of Brent Beckley to United States authorities, which occurred in December of 2011.

The remainder of the book is a single, continuous flashback, starting with the gathering of the University of Montana SAE fratboys in September, 1997, and moving through 15 years of Absolute Poker psuedo-history, culminating with a “where they are now” epilogue describing the current status of the six primary fratboys at the time of the book’s publication.

Except for the part, that is, where all the cheating takes part at Absolute Poker and millions of dollars were taken from the site’s players. Mezrich can’t tell that story as it happened, because doing so renders bare the excuses and alibis of primary cheat and Straight Flush protagonist Scott Tom as the flimsy constructs they really are.

Here are some highlights, straight from the pages of Straight Flush. You be the judge:

(A) — pp. 247-250: A lengthy retelling of the first rumors of insider cheating at Absolute Poker, as recounted by Pete Barovich, one of the six primary SAE fratboys. In this passage, Barovich asserts that he took primary responsibility for attempting to cover up the initial allegations, in part issuing a bogus press release claiming that those allegations had been investigated (they weren’t), but were unfounded.

(B) — p. 251: First mention of the infamous “POTRIPPER” tournament on AP, involving the perhaps-accidental e-mailing of an internal hand-history spreadsheet to that tournament’s runner-up, Marco “CrazyMarco” Johnson.

(C) — p. 252: An acknowledgement that the spreadsheet sent to Johnson did contain evidence of cheating, including the presence of incriminating data involving two accounts linked directly to Scott Tom.

(D) — p. 253-257: In the following chapter, Mezrich serves up a lengthy, five-page, reconstructed discussion between Scott Tom, Barovich and others regarding the implications of the discovered cheating, along with the proffered claims that it was done by a forever-unnamed Costa Rican employee of AP using a software door erroneously left open by the site’s South Korean programmers. The noble Barovich even talks about how the scandal is “gonna be on goddamn 60 Minutes,” a whole-cloth reconstruction; it wasn’t even on that show’s radar at the time, and when 60M did an online-poker story, it focused mostly on the other cheating scandal over at UltimateBet, which didn’t even become public knowledge for another four months.

We won’t even dig deeply into the hilarious supposition that old test accounts were lying around with large amounts of real money within them, as the fratboys and Mezrich try to pass off on p. 254.  That’s ridiculous, an obscene lie by itself.  Like the old saying goes, it takes money to make money, even illegally, and there were thousands of real dollars in the chipstacks of the players at the tables where the cash-game cheating occurred.

This passage also includes a non-naming reference to the supposed cheater as being operations manager Allan Grimard, who was referenced in this series’ last post. (Except, as pointed out last time, Grimard never went on that vacation trip with Scott Tom and Hilt Tatum.)

Anyhow, the crux of this lengthy bullshit passage is that Saint Scott decides he’s going to resign from running the company because of his name’s attachment to the cheating, for the good of all involved.  (This also never happened.) Mezrich’s prose could bring one to tears, for the unfairness of it all:

“But more important to Scott was the company he had built, with his sweat and his blood and his passion — and he didn’t want to watch it disintegrate.”

(E) P. 257: The tale of the crashed Sabreliner jet at Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaria Airport begins. The private, rented jet skidded off the runway and into the grass, causing some bumps and bruises but no significant injuries. The four passengers — Scott Tom and his live-in, pregnant girlfriend, and Hilt Tatum and wife — were off to the Caribbean Islands for a week-plus vacation.

On p. 258, Scott reflects on the supposed bittersweet moment, just before the jet accident:

“He’d never dreamed of his company growing so big — he’d also never imagined that one day he would have to step aside, especially under such dark circumstances. Not just the cheating scandal caused by one of his employees, but what the UIGEA had wrought.”

. . . . .

Okay, now it’s time to play “Guess the Real Dates”. If you think these events happened in order, you’d be sorely mistaken. From the top:

(A) September 17th and 18th, 2007. Barovich actually issued not one bogus and unofficial press release, but two, via his second-in-command, Danielle Burrows. Barovich and Burrows headed up Chipleader, the internal division of Absolute Poker that ran the site’s far-flung affiliate network through which new online players were recruited to sign up to the site.

The first release, the baldest and most blatant denial, was quickly pulled from the affiliate sites where it first appeared, only to be restored later when the cheating became irrefutable. The second statement took its place, and here’s a link to a small poker-site story that correctly reported it at the time.

By the way, here’s a photo of Burrows partying it up with Allan Grimard at an affiliate party. Grimard, the unnamed operations manager in Straight Flush who supposedly did the cheating, fled the operation about as far as Scott Tom did:

(B) September 12th, 2007, and October 14-16, 2007.  Two separate dates apply, and here’s why: The actual Absolute Poker tournament in which “POTRIPPER” (Scott Tom) cheated Marco Johnson and other AP players took place on September 12th, but it was several more weeks until the obvious cheating that occurred was proven out.

Johnson complained immediately, and was sent a massive hand-history spreadsheet in response, even as the SAE fratboys scrambled to cover up the blatant cheating that occurred. What the founders didn’t know was that the spreadsheet was different than most hand histories sent out to players; what Johnson was sent was an Excel spreadsheet file with so many lines of data it overflowed the size restrictions of Excel as it existed in 2007.

Johnson was so befuddled by what he received that he set it aside until early October, only to send it out to people including Steve O’Dwyer — the same “@steveodwyer” currently lambasting Mezrich on Twitter — Nat Arem, and others. Arem in turn sent that on to a small number of industry writers who were monitoring the story, including yours truly and Gary Wise.

(At the time, I was the assistant editor-of-chief of, the world’s largest internet portal for poker news, and Wise was a contributing poker columnist for ESPN, who later helped 60 Minutes with its initial online-poker report.  Both of us could claim to be rather more than the random “2+2 bloggers” Mezrich has denigrated in recent Twitter posts.)

The key breakthroughs regarding the spreadsheet Johnson received came in the overnight hours of October 16, 2007, and I was a part of that chat-based effort, which was being led by Arem and stretched over several days. This isn’t hearsay of any sort; I had a small role in it and first recognized that the infamous “” domain might have significance.

(C)  October 16th, 2007, and no other date. As recounted last time out, an unidentified Absolute Poker executive changed domain-registration information connected to within minutes of Nat Arem posting its discovery on 2+2 and PocketFives, two large poker-discussion forums. At this time, the coverup by AP was ongoing and immediate.

(D) Unknown, but after the above. Mezrich’s five-page dissertation on Scott Tom’s nobility offers no new facts that can be tied to a specific date. It does reference A, B and C, however, and amounts to an imaginary resolution to the cheating problem, which romantically involves Scott Tom departing his dear creation and flying off into the sunrise (since it was to the east), to a hoped-for happy ending. So it can’t be before any of the other three.

And now, that very jet skidding off the runway:

(E) September 3, 2007. Yes, Scott Tom was so pure in his motives for exiting AP that he managed to travel at least seven weeks into the past to depart from his love. The Sabreline skidding off the Juan Santamaria runway happened before the cheating in the POTRIPPER tournament, before the discovery of the connections to Scott Tom, before Absolute Poker was finally forced to admit that the cheating occurred. It was a cause, not a result.

Here’s a link to a very official report that confirms when it happened, though dozens of similar reports on the accident litter the internet to this day.

As with all the other evidence presented to date, these facts are simply not debatable. Nor is this: Ben Mezrich is a gross literary liar. His glossing over of the AP cheating scandal was bad enough, but in falsifying the timeline to do so, the entire second half of Straight Flush has been rendered null and void.

Whether or not Mezrich was paid extra to lie on behalf of the Absolute Poker fratboys, accepting a healthy commission to take on the project over and above his standard book deal, is something that remains unknown for now… despite what Occam’s Razor might suggest.

We shouldn’t have to wait too many years to find out. Behind the poker-world scenes, Scott Tom is known to have “diarrhea of the mouth” when he drinks — he can’t shut up, nor has he ever stopped drinking. Whatever the exact nature of the Mezrich/SAE fratboy deal, that’ll eventually come out as well.


3rd June 2013

@AllenPrep @brettrichey @kevinphwap gotta write the story based on actual evidence, not hearsay. Scandal is presented fairly.

— Ben Mezrich, (@benmezrich on Twitter), 6/3/2013

So who was responsible for the insider cheating at Absolute Poker, in which millions of dollars were taken from players? Ben Mezrich’s new and gigantic literary fraud, Straight Flush, provides no answers, except to claim that it wasn’t Scott Tom, AP’s co-founder, who was inextricably linked to the cheating years ago.

Since the book is a retelling of the story based on the recollections of Tom and his SAE fratboy partners-in-crime, that’s hardly surprising. Of course, the little bit of evidence that Mezrich supplies, he gets wrong, if not outright falsifies. The rest he ignores, and the end result is that Scott Tom is free to return to the original lie as told in an early AP press release way back in 2007: it was all the work of an unnamed, low-level employee, who was out to frame Scott Tom.

If you’re keeping score at home, that tale was dismissed out of hand back in October of 2007 as not being plausible, and AP then shifted the blame — though still not in an official sense — to Allan J. Grimard (a/k/a “AJ Green”), who was AP’s operations director and a close drinking buddy of the fratboy crew. (Yes, I have pictures of Grimard/Green partying it up on multiple occasions with the ‘boys.)

If there was a selected fall guy for the AP cheating, it was probably Grimard, not Brent Beckley, who Mezrich has recently assigned to that role. Why Grimard? Because he was the management person who could shoulder the blame, if need be, without endangering the ownership/management positions of the Tom/Tatum group at the core of AP. Since the company was very much in the midst of a battle with UltimateBet, where a similar cheating scandal was also unfolding, it was vital that the AP owners not be officially blamed.

Therefore, Grimard was the designated fall guy, even though his name was not allowed to be inserted into any official reports or findings. Nor did Grimard ever leave the AP family; he was simply shunted over to a connected entity of Hilt Tatum’s, given a nice bonus, and he remained associated with Absolute all the way until the forced post-Black Friday dissolution in 2011.

The “low-level unnamed employee” story returns in Mezrich’s Straight Flush in its original form.  It hasn’t aged well. Even a cursory logic check ought to show readers that this explanation doesn’t pass the smell test… and never did. Six years on, now, after the last of the original cheating, there would be no legal reason to not name the thief or thieves, were they anyone other than Tom and Company themselves. Instead, Mezrich writes this, possibly even with a straight face:

Because upon analyzing the IP addresses and user details that had been provided by the anonymous Absolute Poker employee along with the hand history, it appeared that there was an observer account — number 363, to be exact — associated with Potripper’s winning play — and that both 363 and Potripper’s IPs could be traced back to Costa Rica. Once the blogger sleuths got hold of that information, it was just a few more steps, a little more research — and they’d uncovered the e-mail associated with account 363.

That e-mail was And according to the bloggers, that e-mail linked directly to the founder of Absolute Poker.

Scott Tom.

[chapter break for emphasis]

“Eight hundred thousand dollars. He really screwed us. He really screwed me.”

Pete [Barovich] felt like he was in the presence of a volcano that was seconds from erupting.  A moment of tense silence swept through the room as everyone at the dining table watched Scott struggling to regain control of his features. Pete had seen Scott mad before — even in college the guy could be volatile — but this was different.  This was terrifying….

And on from there, cut from whole cloth and marinated in slime. Except it wasn’t quite like that. Yes, both the the “363” and the “” factums were key elements of discovering Scott Tom’s involvement, with this “blogger” among the many people involved in their discovery.

Back in April of 2010, I published additional information regarding the involvement of Scott Tom, including evidence showing it could not be a low-level employee as was claimed back then and as Mezrich reasserts now. This is a link to the first post in a series of several AP-related posts that explores some of the proof regarding the involvement of Scott Tom and friends. In that first post, I also shared the general story of the AP cheating as it was understood back then, though I learned much more in the months and years that followed.

Here’s a sample Mezrich lie from the above passage:

“… and they’d uncovered the e-mail associated with account 363.  That e-mail was…”

No. This is false, an attempt to obscure. Account “363” was connected to a different e-mail address that no outsider who saw the infamous “POTRIPPER” hand history realized was connected to the AP group. Here’s a visual extract that I took a screen grab of and included in a much later post. It came together when some of the jilted Absolute Poker investors, from whom the Toms and Tatums and their friends stole hundreds of millions, clued me in as to its relevance:

The account Scott Tom used for the cheating, as “POTRIPPER”, was account #2234890, one of several that Scott and his father, Phil Tom, controlled.

The observer account, #363?  No one outside AP knew who that was, until an investor told me — and the man himself behind it was forced to confirm the connection when faced with the evidence I possessed. “” was Brian Coffey, a close friend and one-time roommate of Phil Tom’s, Scott’s father and AP’s longtime chairman of the board.

Coffey, a home contractor, performed extensive home remodelings on both Phil Tom’s expensive off-Strip home in Las Vegas and on Scott Tom’s huge home in Costa Rica. He even lived with Phil at that Las Vegas home for a while. Coffey was also paid through the Absolute Poker site for his work (to launder the money a bit), owned 30,000 shares of AP stock, and bragged to other investors that he was allowed to use the cheating tool at the poker tables as well.  Coffey acknowledged owning the account — though he denied using it for cheating — in an e-mail I published in this post.

If this alone doesn’t tell you that the story Mezrich spews is unadulterated horse manure, ask yourself this: How would any so-called “low-level employee” know the connection between the “363 /” and “2234890 / Scott Tom” accounts, and thus be able to employ them together in a cheating scheme?

Ah, but that’s just scratching the surface. Here’s a second surface scratch:

Pete Barovich, in Straight Flush, acknowledges initially helping to cover up the cheating, though Mezrich doesn’t ask exactly what he did. The domain, contrary to Mezrich’s claims, was a private e-mail server for AP execs that was very active at the time the cheating was discovered; the domain wasn’t even registered until February of 2007, just months before the cheating was discovered.  This marks yet another Mezrich lie.

Barovich himself is likely the person who made dozens and dozens of frantic changes in the hours and days following the discovery of that domain. There were over 80 separate changes made to the domain information on and after October 16, 2007, when the cheating links involving Scott Tom were first discovered.

That little story can be found here, but Barovich couldn’t cover all the tracks. Someone’s name had to be on the domain, and so he put down that of Diana Hunt, the U. of Montana alum, AP employee, and longtime girlfriend of Tom Wenz, a seventh SAE alum who is mentioned briefly in Straight Flush‘s later pages. (There was an eighth SAE alum at AP as well.)

And now, on to the really good stuff.

Mezrich barely mentions that several accounts were involved in the cheating, but names only POTRIPPER. Among the others were POTCHOPPER, GRAYCAT, STEAMROLLER, PAYUP, DOUBLEDRAG and ROMNALDO — more than the three mentioned by Mezrich, but facts aren’t his strong suit.

The imaginary low-level employee Scott Tom blames would have to have preexisting knowledge that all of these accounts were controlled by Scott Tom, even though some of these accounts had others’ names attached, such as “Jaeson,” who appears to have been a bartender at that infamous Seattle dive where the boys played poker while developing the startup from Phil Tom’s basement.

But it’s how the cheating was done — or rather, the covering up of it — that’s the largest Scott Tom / AP / Ben Mezrich lie of all.

As part of my research, I was able to obtain the “ieSnare” security screen grabs for many of the accounts, which showed account ownership info, logon dates, transfers and associations between other accounts, and much more.

I’ve published a lot of that already, but not all. How Scott Tom did the cheating was to set up a dual-partition arrangement on his personal laptop. It worked because the AP security software wasn't robust enough to detect that the second client, on the alternate hard-drive partition, was the secret “observer” account.

Here’s one such example from the “POTCHOPPER” account, which was engaged in active funds transfers with “POTRIPPER” and was connected to the other cheating accounts the same way:

The reason the entries show up in pairs is because the ieSnare data noted the logons from each of the two clients on Scott Tom’s laptop, which were on separate partitions and had to be logged into AP separately.

The important data, though, is the location. In Part 3 of this series, I blew apart Mezrich’s massive fiction regarding the September 3, 2007 jet accident at Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaria airport, which Mezrich is already trying to defend on Twitter. (Nice try, Ben, but the FBI doesn’t give out info like that, and since I’ve talked to the feds on multiple occasions regarding AP and Scott Tom, I know better.)

One day after the accident, Scott Tom and Hilt Tatum IV and their significant others went ahead and resumed their Caribbean island-hopping vacation. All those logons from Saint Lucia and Antigua & Barbuda, sandwiched by Costa Rica entries? That’s Scott Tom himself, on his resumed Caribbean trip.

Think about what that means: Unless that “low-level employee” was hitching a ride in Scott Tom’s jeans pocket, the tale Mezrich spews is quite literally a physical impossibility.

A little less than two weeks after the jet crash, the ridiculous POTRIPPER tournament cheating ensued, a desperate and blatant grab for money to replace some of what was lost in the plane accident.  The money’s needed purpose, no one on the outside may ever truly know.

I published this information three years ago because of its vital importance. It’s been publicly available all along, and Ben Mezrich knows this.

Here’s a final clincher: the ieSnare images I have came from the UltimateBet side of the Cereus Network hookup, and the data could not have been changed there after it was initially created, especially by anyone from the AP side. My documentation could not have been been forged, and the POTRIPPER details in particular match exactly to what was sent out to CrazyMarco from the AP side.

Dear Mr. Mezrich: You are a slimy liar and a literary disgrace. I’d hoped for better, but Straight Flush may well be the most shameful “narrative non-fiction” book of this era. That’s quite an accomplishment.


2nd June 2013

Understanding the depths of authorial fraud committed by Ben Mezrich in his latest book, Straight Flush, requires nothing more complex than a simple comparison of the story as Mezrich tells it against the facts as they actually occurred.

One of the key elements to the Absolute Poker story is a plane crash that occurred at Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaria Airport on September 3, 2007. Onboard the small Sabreliner jet, which SAE fratboy Hilt Tatum IV had rented and brought over from Panama, were Hilt and his new wife, Scott Tom and his pregnant girlfriend, and the jet’s pilot and co-pilot. None were seriously injured, and the Tatums and Toms hopped a different plane the following day and continued on with their planned trip to Antigua and other Caribbean islands.

The plane crash will figure in again in this expose’s Part 5, “The Scandal Timeline Falsification,” adding even more proof to how intentional and fraudulent Mezrich’s latest work really is. In the days after it occurred, anecdotes quickly surfaced on numerous poker and sportsbook forums that Tatum’s and Tom’s luggage, abandoned as they fled the fire threat at the plane crash scene, included a duffel bag containing $2-3 million and an unknown quantity of drugs.

It’s recast just a bit differently on p. 269 of Straight Flush.  Here’s Mezrich’s take, as recounted by the fratboys:

By the time they were released from the hospital — more a precautionary stay than due to the severity of their cuts and bruises — word of the accident had already made it onto a variety of online local and international news site and was rapidly spreading through the blogs. Scott’s phone was gone, lost somewhere in the wreckage, which was now entirely presided over by agents from the FAA, since it had been an American-built airplane. They had to use Hilt’s phone to check in with everyone to tell them that they were okay. By the second person they called, they realized that the story, spreading electronically at first, but eventually into newspapers as well, was turning into something out of a Hollywood thriller.

“This is ridiculous,” Hilt said as he hung up the phone. “Now they’re reporting that there was three million dollars and a bunch of coke in a suitcase on the back of the plane, and that you’re on the run to Colombia. I’ve never gone near cocaine — and where the hell did they get the three million dollars?”

Scott shook his head, bewildered. He was watching an urban legend generating right in front of him, and there was nothing he could do about it. What the hell — it was just too perfect to fight. A high-flying American cowboy from Montana, fleeing Costa Rica to Colombia with millions of dollars and mountains of coke.

Mezrich’s implication in this excerpt is crystal clear: these allegations were false. The real truth about the Sabreliner crash took until 2011 to appear, when Costa Rican authorities finally confirmed that the stories were true, and that investigators really did find a duffel bag containing $3 million in the Sabreliner’s wrecked fuselage. [Note: The “Colombia” referenced is in connection to the original flight’s scheduled refueling stop, halfway to Antigua, in Cartagena, Colombia.]

I’ve archived several news reports about this. Here’s one example, originally from the Tico Times, one of Costa Rica’s largest newspapers:

In 2007, a small private plane had a minor accident during takeoff at Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaría International Airport. While investigating the accident, airport officials stumbled upon something unusual.

Inside the plane authorities found a bag containing $3 million in cash. The plane was headed for Colombia, and one of its passengers was Scott Tom, owner of the online gambling website Absolute Poker. One of the world’s more popular online gambling sites, Absolute Poker was based at a non-descript office building in Rohrmoser, west of San José, under the name Innovative Data Solutions (IDS).

The multi-million dollar discovery prompted the Public Prosecutor’s Office to begin monitoring Tom, who investigators suspected of laundering money earned from U.S. poker players and dispersing it into bank accounts throughout the world.

“When we learned of the money on the plane and that Scott Tom had been on the flight, we began to investigate the financial and economic activities that he had in Costa Rica,” Guillermo Hernández, adjunct prosecutor at the Prosecutor’s Office’s Financial Crimes Division, told The Tico Times this week. “We were able to determine that there was an important flow of money from the United States to Costa Rica and that it was being invested in different forms in Costa Rica.” [bold emphasis mine]

But Hernández said the Prosecutor’s Office couldn’t verify the money’s source.

Four years later, and with a little help from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Prosecutor’s Office began to build a case that allegedly linked the funds to illegal online gambling operations. Investigators believed they had enough evidence that money laundering and bank fraud were occurring.

The $3 million from the Sabreliner crash in 2007 was the key event that allowed Costa Rica’s OIJ agents to raid Scott Tom’s home and the AP offices in conjunction with the US’s 2011 Black Friday indictments. Mezrich didn’t mention that all at, and he glosses over the raid on Tom (who had already gone on the lam) in a couple of brief sentences.

In other words, the fratboys told lies to Mezrich, and Mezrich lied to his readers. So now you know. It’s not even close to debatable.

Monday, January 25, 2021


31st May 2013

Of all the underlying themes in Ben Mezrich’s new narrative non-fiction book, Straight Flush, none are more important than its insistence that the University of Montana SAE frat boys who founded Absolute Poker were idealistic, pure-hearted dreamers whose love of poker — and poker only — was the company’s sole purpose and guiding light.

It’s an important fallacy to propagate. The book as a whole doesn’t work unless Mezrich can portray Scott Tom and the rest of the boys as innocent victims of circumstance and the US government.

Time after time, Straight Flush bombards the reader with examples of just how pure its founders were, from its philosophical focus on poker’s aspects of a game of skill, to the boys choosing not to do business with certain Costa Rican sports bookies after encountering blatant evidence that those bookies were mobbed up, to Tom’s parting admonition that “he truly believed, in his heart, that he was innocent.”

And in all of Straight Flush‘s 304 pages, the word “blackjack” never appears in the form of a game, though “blackjack table” or “blackjack chips” (as a background object) appears five times as a story prop. (Hat tip to Poker Grump for the clarification). “Blackjack” alone, as a game or concept? Nada. That’s a couple of times less than the number of appearances for “amazonian,” if memory serves, which provides more evidence of where this book is aimed.

Did you know that Absolute Poker offered blackjack to its customers, well before the passage of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA)? You won’t find that out from Mezrich in this book, and that omission is an unfair exploitation of the reader’s expectations that a “true story” actually be true. Ben Mezrich is guilty of countless lies by omission in this book, and this is one of the largest.

Here’s how it all went down. In October of 2005, PartyPoker introduced blackjack at its poker tables. Players could switch from poker to blackjack with a single mouseclick from any poker table, via a stylized “21” icon in the table’s upper corner. The introduction of blackjack was an instant success, quickly adding to a revenue gain published by PartyGaming in quarterly revenue reports that December.

Behind-the-scenes tales, shared by Party execs at the many trade conferences that poker-room execs attended, asserted that the company quickly began generating as much as $800,000 a day in profits from its new blackjack offerings, and the AP fratboys wanted a piece of that action.

Thus started a heated debate on the Absolute Poker board of directors, this not too long after the “graying up” of the board mentioned in Straight Flush that involved the stepping aside of co-founder Garin Gustafson.

The battle, as relayed to me by two separate AP board members — one of whom was Phil Tom himself — quickly became a battle of young versus old. The fratboys, in particular Scott Tom and Hilt Tatum IV, had dollar signs in their eyes and wanted that blackjack added as soon as possible, to the point of having CJ and Christian and the rest of the South Korean programmers working on the new gaming addition.

The older board members, who included Phil Tom and AP’s most prominent player rep, Mark Seif (who is himself a lawyer), argued that introducing blackjack brought them directly into the crosshairs of many United States anti-gambling laws.

This had nothing to do with the “poker is a game of skill” legal fallacy that wasn’t even discussed back in 2005, nor did it have anything to do with the 1961 Wire Act; instead, it had to do with the three-pronged test of “gambling” activity that has been an accepted court standard in most US jurisdictions for decades.

One of the three prongs necessary to meet most courts’ definition of gambling was the placing of a wager (the offering of consideration) with the house, with wins or losses then determined by the outcome of some later event — the turn of a card, roll of a die, spin of a wheel or outcome of a game.

The legal defense of online poker, as it was championed at the time, was that poker sites were not engaging in gambling because they were offering a service. The rake was the fee for that service, and whether poker was gambling or not, that didn’t matter, as it was a wager occurring between the players themselves.

This “poker as a skill game” stuff?  It’s revisionist history. Back then, it wasn’t even on the table.

Blackjack changed the equation, because regardless of whether any skill was involved, players were clearly wagering against the house. That’s the barrier that PartyPoker willfully breached, which it then compounded by rolling out is full suite of casino games, PartyCasino, in early 2006. For a brief time, those were open to US players as well.

Absolute Poker and the SAE fratboys wanted to emulate PartyPoker, because Party was the market leader. In the boardroom struggle, they eventually got their way, and in early 2006 AP added live blackjack to its offerings — and as with Party’s, it was playable right from the poker client.

Blackjack? Readers don’t find that concept anywhere in Straight Flush. Instead, they get the tale of how these idealistic boys just needed to get their third year of audited financial results on the books, in order to launch that planned IPO and get closer to those “billionaire” dreams.

Absolute Poker’s rollout of blackjack in late 2005 and early 2006 was exactly during the time the company made its IPO plans, and was, in fact, a vital part of it — a chance to quickly add more paper valuation to the company’s bulging bottom line.

However, given that it was the frat boys themselves that wanted the blackjack added, against the advice of older board members and legal opinions alike, makes a giant lie of the whole pure-hearted poker theme that drives Mezrich’s tale. And so, — poof! — blackjack had to be left out. It fit neither the historical rewriting that the SAE fratboys seek through this book, nor the tale that Mezrich wanted to sell.

Tales like this work best with a kicker. Readers might remember that Mezrich garnered literary note for his first book, Bringing Down the House, which was the augmented and romanticized retelling of the ’80s-era MIT blackjack teams. (Mezrich’s fictionalizing of the events in BDTH was so extreme it remains the primary focus of the Wiki page on the book.)

The point is, Mezrich knows all about blackjack, including its historical role and its defined role as gambling. Recognizing this, it’s then easy to see why no whiff of blackjack could be allowed anywhere near the fantasy Mezrich constructs in Straight Flush.

The omission of blackjack is a lie of omission so large, so grandiose, that it makes the book itself fraudulent. Still, if you’re going to lie, make it big. Ben Mezrich has the literary lie down pat.