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Judge: FBI's Ruse to Catch Poker Champ in Vegas Hotel Room Went Too Far

FBI agents cut off the Internet service to the room where world champion poker player, Paul Phua, 50, was staying then claimed to be repairmen.
/ Source: NBC News

A federal judge in Las Vegas has ruled that FBI agents went too far when they shut off Internet service to a Las Vegas hotel room last summer, then posed as repairmen so they could get a peek into the room without a search warrant.

FBI agents cut off Internet service to the room at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas where world champion poker player, Paul Phua, 50, was staying last July, and then claimed to be the repairmen summoned to fix it.

The FBI had received a tip that Phua and others in his entourage were illegally taking bets on the World Cup. The agents wore hidden cameras inside the room and said the footage proved those inside were making illegal bets.

On Friday federal Judge Andrew Gordon said the scheme violated Phua's right against unreasonable searches.

"Permitting the government to create the need for the occupant to invite a third party into his or her home would effectively allow the government to conduct warrantless searches of the vast majority of residences and hotel rooms in America," Gordon said.

"The government need only disrupt the phone, cable, Internet, or some other 'non-essential' service, and reasonable people will opt to invite a third party onto their property to repair it, unwittingly allowing government agents into the most private spaces to view and record whatever and whomever they see," he said.

Phua's son, Darren, pleaded guilty to reduced federal charges last month. Five others have reached plea deals as well. Paul Phua continues to fight the charges, and today's ruling is a victory for him.