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Two Full Tilt Poker directors were hit with another class-action lawsuit Thursday by online poker players upset because they can’t withdraw funds from the company.
Attorneys for four lead class-action plaintiffs filed suit in federal court in Las Vegas against Full Tilt directors Howard Lederer and Chris ''Jesus'' Ferguson, alleging conversion.
The lawsuit complains that before and after ''Black Friday'' — nearly one year ago on April 15, 2011 — Lederer and Ferguson ''exercised unlawful dominion and control'' over players’ funds in Full Tilt accounts.
It was Black Friday when federal prosecutors unveiled a crackdown and criminal fraud charges against online poker sites Full Tilt, PokerStars and Absolute Poker.
Later in 2011, the government claimed Full Tilt ''was not a legitimate poker company, but a global Ponzi scheme.''
Thursday’s lawsuit in Las Vegas focused on the Ponzi scheme allegation, charging U.S. players have been wrongfully denied access to some $150 million in their Full Tilt accounts in part because of the actions of Lederer and Ferguson.
The lawsuit claims Lederer received some $42 million in distributions and ''profit sharing'' payments, some of which was loaned from Full Tilt and may or may not be outstanding; while Ferguson similarly received $85 million, some of which may have been in the form of loans.
''Additionally, defendants approved distributions and loans to the other owners of Full Tilt Poker from funds directly traceable to the player accounts,'' the lawsuit says. ''The distributions and loans to Lederer, Ferguson and the other Full Tilt Poker owners were from intermingled funds containing monies from the player accounts.''
The suit seeks a court order requiring the defendants to refund players their money and punitive damages.
The lead plaintiffs in Thursday’s suit are poker players Steve Segal of New York, Nick Hammer and Robin Hougdahl of Minnesota and Todd Terry of New Jersey.
The same four players last year filed a class-action suit against Lederer, Ferguson and other Full Tilt officials and corporate entities in New York alleging racketeering because of an alleged pattern of bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering; but in January a federal judge found that court lacked jurisdiction over the individual Full Tilt defendants.
In trying to establish jurisdiction for the new Nevada lawsuit, the players’ attorneys cited ''diversity jurisdiction'' in which all parties are residents of different states; and ''personal jurisdiction'' and ''venue'' because Lederer lives in Nevada, Ferguson has ''conducted substantial business'' within Nevada and ''because many of the wrongs and acts complained of herein were contemplated and executed by defendants in this district.''
The Full Tilt defendants have not yet answered the new Las Vegas lawsuit, but they’ve denied similar allegations in other suits including one filed in October in Los Angeles by different poker players.
The Los Angeles lawsuit names not just Lederer and Ferguson, but also Full Tilt CEO Raymond Biter and celebrity players including Phil Ivey.
Besides the New York and Las Vegas cases involving Segal and his three co-plaintiffs, and the Los Angles case; there are three other federal civil suits pending against Full Tilt and its officials involving different plaintiffs in New York.
One of those plaintiffs is the United States, which in an amended complaint in September unveiled the Ponzi scheme allegations against the company. The government claims that as of March 31, 2011, Full Tilt Poker owed about $390 million to players around the world, including about $150 million to U.S. players, but had only about $60 million in its bank accounts.
Thursday’s Las Vegas lawsuit was filed by attorneys at the firm Shook & Stone Chtd. In Las Vegas and the firm Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP in New York.