PokerStars Co-Founder Isai Scheinberg Surrenders to US Authorities

  • PokerStars billionaire traveled to US to answer “Black Friday”-related allegations
  • Scheinberg immediately arraigned, then released on $1 million personal bond
  • Widely rumored to have long been negotiating with DOJ prosecutors, speedy plea deal likely
US Department of Justice seal
Following his January 17 arrest and subsequent bail, Isai Scheinberg will now answer charges related to the 2011 “Black Friday” case that saw US authorities crack down on US-facing poker sites. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Billionaire arraigned on Black Friday charges

Isai Scheinberg, the PokerStars co-founder who was charged in 2011 as part of the United States’ “Black Friday” crackdown targeting US-facing poker sites, has turned himself in to the American authorities to answer charges in the case.

the last of the 11 individuals charged in the case to answer to US justice

Court records show that Scheinberg, 73, surrendered to US marshals in New York City on Friday, January 17. News of his surrender and formal arrest remained unpublished until a January 24 report from Forbes.

The immensely popular figure in the online poker world was reportedly in negotiations with the US Department of Justice and its Southern District of New York Attorney’s Office, where the “Black Friday” indictments were filed.

Scheinberg was the last of the 11 individuals charged in the case to answer to US justice.

The case targeted executives at PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker, along with several individuals who served as third-party payment processors. On Black Friday of April 2011, the three poker companies found their online domains seized and their services forcibly interrupted. Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker quickly folded as widespread internal fraud became evident. PokerStars – being operated in a fiscally responsible manner – survived the US crackdown, retaining its position as the world’s leading online poker operator.

Released on $1 million bail

Scheinberg was quickly arraigned in a New York federal court, then released on a $1 million bond, which was paid in cash. As a condition of release, Scheinberg, of Israeli and Canadian nationalities, was also ordered to surrender his passport and other travel documents.

His travel within the US will also be limited while his case remains unresolved. He will be free to travel within New York’s Southern and Eastern federal court districts, which encompass New York City and neighboring counties. Scheinberg is also free to travel to Washington, D.C., where his attorney’s firm is located, and for transit purposes, to areas between those jurisdictions.

Scheinberg was also forced to arrange for residency while his case progresses. He will be staying at the Sofitel, an upscale hotel in midtown Manhattan.

Quick plea deal likely

Scheinberg was technically designated a fugitive from the United States, though he had not ventured to the US for many years before the Black Friday crackdown.

charges centered on abuses of the US’s banking system

However, he and his counsel were widely rumored to have been in negotiations with DOJ prosecutors for many years, dating back virtually to the filing of charges in 2011. The charges centered on abuses of the US’s banking system.

The most severe penalties have been meted out to the third-party processors who actually manipulated various payment channels. The charged poker company executives received smaller sentences in comparison: usually little or no jail time and a fine generally matching the posted (and likely pre-negotiated) bond.

The court documents connected to Scheinberg’s surrender hint at a negotiated speedy process. He was arrested in the early afternoon of January 17 and then appeared for his federal court arraignment three-and-a-half hours later.

Goodwill with US authorities

Isai Scheinberg has likely accumulated some goodwill with US authorities despite the technical “fugitive” status.

Under his direction, PokerStars parent company Rational Group negotiated a $731 million settlement with the DOJ in 2012. The settlement resolved the US’s federal claims against PokerStars while also creating a fund to pay off jilted former players on Full Tilt (and later, Absolute Poker), which were insolvent.

Scheinberg and PokerStars received Full Tilt’s remaining assets, but those sites were Stars’ fiercest rivals before Black Friday.