BY RUSS SCOTT
RELEASE: SEPT. 27, 2011
Fraud Accusations Obscure Memory of Poker Icon’s Great Feats
Before he became poker’s world champion in 2000, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson was more mystery than marvel to me.
At card rooms in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, I saw his foreboding signature look — black clothes and cowboy hat, sunglasses, dark full beard and long, flowing hair.
Ferguson’s behavior betrayed his sinister-like facade, however. He was polite and soft-spoken, taught ballroom dancing, and carried himself with kind of an awkward shyness uncharacteristic of high-profile poker players.
He didn’t bad-mouth weak players who lucked out against him, he respected the game, and his poker table manners made him a cinch to never be slapped with a penalty for excessive celebration or foul language.
Although his World Series cashes started in 1995, it was a magical May in 2000 that thrust Ferguson into the game’s brightest light.
On May 2 that year, he won his first of five career gold bracelets, topping a field of 151 in the $2,500 seven-card stud event, good for $151,000. On May 9 and 13, he final-tabled razz and Omaha tournaments, and then on May 18 he captured poker’s biggest prize, $1.5 million, as main event world champ.
What a run! Ferguson had gone from mystery man to megastar at age 37.
Just a year later in the WSOP $1,500 stud tournament, our assigned starting seats were next to each other. He couldn’t have been nicer. When I congratulated him on winning the main event, he took the champion’s bracelet off his left wrist and let me try it on!
In 2006, Ferguson was one of my early interviews for LuckyDog Poker. He gave me all the time I needed and patiently answered every question, just as I’d seen him do when approached by autograph-seekers at tournaments.
Now, five years later, some of those same fans likely have a different view of poker’s most recognizable player.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Ferguson, Howard Lederer and two other Full Tilt Poker directors of defrauding tens of thousands of online poker players out of some $300 million dating back to 2007.
The detailed civil-suit allegations singling out the foursome are linked to federal indictments April 15 accusing offshore sites Full Tilt, PokerStars and Absolute Poker of money laundering, bank fraud and illegal gambling. PokerStars returned U.S. players’ deposits in about two weeks, but no refunds have come from the other sites.
In a news release, the government said its civil suit claims Full Tilt insiders “lined their pockets with (players’) funds … while blithely lying to both players and the public alike about the safety and security of the money deposited with the company.”
The complicated case has rocked the poker world. Understandably, online players with frozen poker accounts just want their money back. One way that might happen is if the government case succeeds and if legal action is taken against the defendants’ property, including bank accounts.
The Poker Players Alliance supports this notion, saying the Justice Department is tasked with protecting U.S. citizens against fraudulent foreign companies. “If the allegations are true, it means Full Tilt committed fraud and deceit of players” and that the DOJ should set up some sort of victims’ fund, said PPA director John Pappas.
But that’s a lot of “ifs,” and the legal process will take a long time to sort out. Besides, these accusations are just that. The government’s case could fall apart, or result in a settlement without player reimbursements.
Meanwhile, I can’t help thinking about an earlier time when poker’s most polite superstar stood out for different reasons. Can those days ever return?
E-mail your poker questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org for use in future columns. To find out more about Russ Scott and read previous LuckyDog Poker columns, visit www.creators.com or www.luckydogpoker.com.
COPYRIGHT 2011 RUSS SCOTT
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