FBI agents violated the Fourth Amendment by turning off the Internet and then pretending to be repairmen to enter an alleged bookie’s hotel suite and search computers without a warrant, a federal judge has ruled.
US District Judge Andrew P. Gordon also ruled that it is unconstitutional for agents to cut off Internet service without a warrant.
“They were trying everything they could to get inside without a warrant,” attorney Thomas Goldstein said of FBI agents in an interview with the Associated Press.
Goldstein represents Wei Seng Phua and a number of other men accused of running an illegal online sports book out of villas at the Caesars Palace Casino in Las Vegas.
In his opinion, Golden said the case “tests the boundaries of how far the government can go when creating a subterfuge to access a suspect’s premises.”
“Here, the government disrupted the Internet service to the defendant’s hotel room in order to generate a repair call. Government agents then posed as repairmen to gain access to the defendant’s room and conduct a surreptitious search for evidence of an illegal sports betting operation,” Gordon wrote. “By creating the need for a third party to enter defendant’s premises and then posing as repairmen to gain entry, the government violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.”
The Fourth Amendment protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures,” Gordon wrote, ordering the evidence collected not be considered in determining the man’s guilt or innocence.
The evidence was collected during a joint investigation by the FBI and the Nevada Gambling Control Board (NVGCB) in the summer of 2014. The two agencies received a tip that Phua and other guests were taking online bets on World Cup Soccer.
Hotel workers reportedly saw what looked like an illegal bookie operation set up in Phua’s high roller villa.
To get into the Villa, the FBI and NVGCB recruited Mike Wood, the owner of Wood Telemanagement & Solutions, the company that maintains the DSL service at Caesars. Wood agreed to help the FBI by cutting off Internet service and letting two of its agents poise as his employees. The two had no warrant and they were wearing recording devices.
“The ruse’s only purpose was to gain entry into villa 8882 and gather evidence without a warrant,” Gordon wrote of the agents’ behavior.
In the villa, an NVGCB agent named Ricardo Lopez and the FBI agent saw Phua and another man sitting at computers looking at sports betting sites. After leaving the villa, Lopez and the FBI applied for warrants to search the villa. The application for the warrants was based on information gathered during the warrantless search. The FBI later raided the villas and arrested Phua and his associates.
Phua only learned of the warrantless search when details of it were entered as evidence at a federal trial.
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