The Unco-operative Mr. Beckley?

by , Dec 21, 2011 | 10:12 am

Brent Beckley pled guilty in US federal court in Manhattan yesterday to two counts contained in the criminal indictment unveiled in April of this year (United States v. Scheinberg et al). The first count was conspiracy to engage in unlawful Internet gambling, contrary to 18 U.S.C. § 371—this is a general conspiracy provision applied to the purported UIGEA violations. The second count was conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, contrary to 18 U.S.C. § 1349, with reference to offences under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 1344. Mr. Beckley was the “director of payment processing for Absolute Poker,” according to the government’s press releaseVin Narayanan, who indicates that he has read the plea agreement, reports that federal prosecutors have recommended a sentence of between 12 and 18 months and that Mr. Beckley also agreed to forfeit $300,000 as part of his guilty plea.

One of the more intriguing parts of the US Attorney’s press release is the following sentence: “He [Mr. Beckley] is scheduled to be sentenced by United States Judge Lewis A. Kaplan on April 19, 2012, at 4:00 pm.”

Why is that interesting? Because I think it might indicate that Brent Beckley is not (or at least is not thus far) a co-operating witness for the government. I think he’s made his guilty plea to the court, thereby admitting his own involvement, but without rolling over on anyone else.

Compare what we know about Mr. Beckley with what we know about Bradley Franzen’s deal. Recall that Mr. Franzen pled guilty in May of this year to three counts in connection with the same criminal indictment: conspiracy to commit bank fraud; conspiracy to accept funds in connection with unlawful Internet gambling; and, conspiracy to commit money laundering. Mr. Franzen’s plea agreement is here and the press release announcing the plea is here. When is Mr. Franzen’s sentencing? If you look at the bottom of page 2 of the press release, it says that the hearing has yet to be scheduled. That’s actually not quite right. When Mr. Franzen pleaded guilty in May, a sentencing hearing was set for late summer. There is no mention of what happened to that hearing on the court docket, but it does seem clear that it never happened and that it has not yet been rescheduled. So it was originally scheduled; it just hasn’t taken place yet.

One interpretation of this is that Mr. Franzen’s sentence is contingent on what he provides to the Department of Justice. In other words, he is a co-operating witness in the investigation and prosecution and his sentencing was put off to see how his co-operation shakes out. If that’s true, then he won’t be sentenced until the proceedings are over and they see how he’s performed. If he’s a good co-operator for the government, that should be reflected in any representations that the US Attorney makes to Judge Kaplan. If he’s a bad co-operator, then that will also be taken into account. The bottom line is that it seems he still has to earn any consideration in this regard from the Department of Justice.

Right now, it appears that Mr. Beckley might be on the same initial track as Mr. Franzen was before Mr. Franzen’s sentencing hearing was deferred. Mr. Beckley currently has a fixed date to get out of the case. It will be interesting to see if his hearing proceeds on April 19th. If it does, and if he doesn’t appear as a witness at trial, then it’s reasonable to infer that he’s not a co-operator.

Why would the government make such a bargain without co-operation? Perhaps the prosecutors wanted an early victory against one of the alleged operators in the case. Maybe Mr. Beckley is getting some consideration for being at the front of the line. Certainly the deal, while exposing the accused to a federal prison sentence, wasn’t undertaken lightly by Mr. Beckley, but on the plus side he gets a certain amount of finality, even now, before his sentencing. He currently has a target date for moving on with his life. Brad Franzen doesn’t.

So keep watching the docket and the proceedings. The trial for Chad Elie and John Campos is set for March 12, 2012, if they don’t decide to plead out beforehand. If we don’t see Mr. Beckley appear in those proceedings and if his sentencing hearing goes forward as currently scheduled, then I’m confident he’s not a co-operator and he’ll be out of the case.

The pressure on any criminal defendant in a case like this—from all sides—to settle by becoming a co-operator is immense. I think it shows a great deal of fortitude to resist that kind of pressure, to own up to one’s own involvement, and to not take anyone else down in the process. I expect that several of the other defendants won’t see this matter through the same way I suspect Mr. Beckley has thus far.

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