FBI agents impersonate repairmen as part of Las Vegas gambling bust

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FBI agents dressed up as repairmen to infiltrate a big money gambling ring at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

In "Ocean's Eleven," Danny Ocean's crew plans a ruse to steal money inside a Las Vegas casino. It includes cutting the city's power. The FBI has now been accused of a planning a real-life ruse inside luxury villas at Caesars Palace.

Their target was Paul Phua, who the government suspected was illegally gambling.

Phua's attorney, Tom Goldstein, says FBI agents disguised themselves as computer repairmen and wore secret cameras to gather evidence. They first tried to deliver a computer to Phua's hotel room, but were stopped by a butler. Next, the FBI disconnected Phua's Internet access so Phua would have to call for a repairman who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent.

"I'll take a look at the router, that's probably where the problem is," an undercover FBI agent is heard saying in video footage.

That gave FBI agents the chance to walk all around the room, secretly recording evidence without ever getting a warrant.

Goldstein, a leading U.S. Supreme Court attorney, told Eyewitness News via Skype that he's filed a motion to suppress all the evidence that was secretly recorded. He says this case could have national implications.

"This is probably going to end up being a test case about how far they can go to trick people into letting them into their homes," Goldstein said.

Under U.S. law, a person whose property is inspected generally must waive his constitutional protections against unreasonable searches unless authorities obtain a warrant. Evidence collected improperly is not supposed to be used at trial.

The FBI in Las Vegas referred questions about the practice to the U.S. Attorney's Office there. Natalie Collins, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden, said prosecutors were aware of the allegations being made by defense lawyers but declined to comment, citing a pending trial.

Meantime, former federal prosecutor Mark Rasch says this case is unprecedented.

"Law enforcement is allowed to use a certain amount of subterfuge and what the court has to do here is decide how much is too much," Rasch said, adding that he believes the sting was too much.

"It would be the same thing as turning off the power or turning off the water, and then saying, 'Oh you invited me in,' so the key here is consent," he said. "There was no actual consent here."

Federal authorities described Phua, 50, as a high-ranking member of the 14k Triad, a Chinese organized crime group.

Phua, his son Darren Wai Kit Phua, Seng Chen Yong, Wai Kin Yong and four others were arrested in July after federal agents raided three high-roller villas at the hotel.

All eight face charges of transmission of wagering information, operating an illegal gambling business, and aiding and abetting. None of the defendants have entered a plea, but Goldstein said they all deny wrongdoing.

Goldstein says the government has a few weeks to present its case inside a Las Vegas courthouse before a judge will make a decision on whether that evidence is admissible.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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FBIcasinolas vegasundercoverLas Vegas
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