Travell Thomas, age 38, who has over $500,000 in lifetime poker tournament earnings, was sentenced to 8 years and 4 months in federal prison last Thursday, as punishment for orchestrating a fraudulent debt collection business out of Buffalo, New York.
Thomas finally admitted and pleaded guilty at the end of 2016 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of wire fraud. His sentencing was delayed until February.
The final sentence was deemed quite lighter than expected. Initially, he was facing up to 40 years in jail. However, in November last year he pled guilty and agreed to up to 15.5 years.
US District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla stated the punishment's time was the lowest she could go, because she wanted to send a message to those who would think of doing the same crime in the future, "Using abusive and outrageous threats to take advantage of vulnerable Americans, Thomas and his co-conspirators defrauded victims out of $31 million and Thomas made a small fortune for himself," said Joon H. Kim, acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, from which the prosecution emanated. "Thomas will now serve a significant term in federal prison."
According to the US government, the company named Four Star Resolution, in which Thomas was the president and CEO, siphoned approximately $31 million from victims between the years 2010 and 2015.
Thomas was also ordered to give back the $31 million, even though the government claimed he only pocketed a small portion of the business' revenue during its lifespan.
Former US Attorney Preet Bharara said last autumn, "Thomas instructed his debt collectors to threaten, intimidate, and lie to their victims by overstating their debts and making false claims about what would happen to if they didn't pay up."
Bharara added that the case is "believed to be the largest fraudulent debt collection scheme ever to be prosecuted." Thomas attorneys claimed that the case was racially motivated.
Bharara, who was kicked out by President Trump earlier this 2017, was the person who went after the world's biggest poker sites in an event called by the poker community as Black Friday.
He was quite renowned in the poker community before becoming infamous from the scam. From 2006 to 2015, Thomas played in various WPT, WSOP and regional poker tournament events. He got three first-place finishes in February 2013 (a relatively small prize money), including winning $30,371 at a WSOP circuit event.
Thomas' final poker tournament cash was back in September 2015, just a few weeks before his indictment.
In a hearing back in November, Thomas broke down in tears and admitted to the court that he deliberately broke the law to steal millions from his victims. Last Thursday, he cried again when he addressed the court prior to his sentencing.