Joined: Dec '12
Age: 42 (M)
Former Full Tilt Poker chief executive Ray Bitar will plead guilty to felony charges stemming from his 2011 “Black Friday” indictment, according to several media sources, including the Wall Street Journal and Diamond Flush Poker. This news in and of itself should not really come as a shock, considering Bitar was arrested in July 2012 and most of the other people named in the indictments have already reached deals with the U.S. Department of Justice. The interesting part here, though, is the set of circumstances surrounding the expected guilty plea.
Bitar’s attorney, Jack Baughman, presented Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska his client’s medical records in a New York City courtroom yesterday to show that Bitar is literally facing a life and death health situation. In November, Bitar was diagnosed with a critical heart condition that cannot be fixed. The only way Bitar can regain some semblance of health is via a heart transplant or artificial heart. Without it, his attorney said, doctor’s put his chances of survival over the next 6-12 months at only 50 percent. Bitar has what is called Class IV heart failure on the New York Heart Association (NYHA) Functional Classification scale. According to the American Heart Association, Class IV patients cannot engage in any physical activity at all without discomfort. Even at rest, symptoms of heart failure may manifest themselves.
As such, Bitar’s attorney has requested that Judge Preska both hear and rule on Bitar’s guilty plea on the same day, forgoing the typical 90 day period between hearing and ruling. Additionally, Baughman has asked that, should Judge Preska accept the same-day plea and sentencing, Bitar be allowed to appear live on camera from California because he is too ill to travel to New York. The biggest part of the plea deal, though, is that in pleading guilty to two charges, Bitar will not be required to serve any prison time. This is of the utmost importance to Bitar because in order to be considered for a heart transplant, a patient cannot be facing incarceration. Time spent behind bars would not afford the patient the proper medical care he would need following a transplant.
The hearing and sentencing date could be as soon as April 19th, but while there are legitimate reasons for the defense’s request of no prison time, there is no guarantee the judge will accept that. Bitar is facing up to 35-years behind bars which, if given, would essentially be a death sentence for the 40-year old. While he would not be incarcerated should the judge accept his defense’s conditions (he is currently out on bail), he would still agree to forfeit essentially everything he earned while at Full Tilt, including real estate and investments. One dollar figure appearing in reports is $40 million.
Bitar’s defense team has been working with prosecutors on the plea deal and while the prosecution did not straight-out recommend in court that Bitar not be incarcerated, it did say that it would not argue with whatever ruling Judge Preska makes.