Las Vegas, Nev. – In June 2014, federal agents suspected a wealthy foreign real estate developer and his associates of operating an illegal gambling operation from a Las Vegas villa in Caesar’s Palace Hotel using online sports books.
Agents disrupted Internet service to the residence, then pretended to be technicians to gain access to the villa with the goal of gathering enough evidence to obtain a search warrant.
One of the men in the group had previously been kicked out of Macau for operating an illegal sports book. This drew the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Nevada Gaming Commission that the men were potentially running an untaxed sports book out of their villa.
Based on this suspicion, federal agents came up with a plan to gather enough evidence to obtain a search warrant, as simple suspicions aren’t enough to obtain a warrant.
The FBI decided to attempt entry into the villa by delivering laptops to the villa, in concert with a Caeser’s Palace computer contractor, under the guise of needing to enter the premises to ensure the connections worked properly, according to court documents.
The butler of the villa turned the agents away at the door, shown on surveillance footage from secret cameras worn by the agents attempting to enter the premises.
“I just want to make sure they can connect before I leave. Can we just make sure they can connect, OK?” the agent asks.
“The thing is, you can’t go in there right now,” replies the butler.
After being summarily denied access by the butler, agents regrouped and came up with “another trick,” according to defense attorney Tom Goldstein, they would simply cut the Internet access to the villa.
“We’ll dress up as technicians, we’ll come inside, we’ll claim to be fixing the Internet connection — even though we can’t, ’cause we broke it from outside — and then we’ll just look around and see what we see.”
The agents, upon entry to the villa to “fix” the Internet service, covertly recorded everything they could while inside. While in the residence they saw the men looking at betting odds on their laptops while watching World Cup soccer, both of which are completely legal activities in Las Vegas.
The recordings were used in a criminal complaint to obtain a search warrant.
The feds knew what they had done was illegal and attempted to obscure the facts of the case from the judge by hiding any indication that the federal agents were the ones that cut the Internet lines to the villa.
“They just managed not to tell the magistrate what it is they had actually done,” says Goldstein.
According to NPR,
Goldstein made note that he and his clients never would have known that it was the FBI agents who cut the line were it not for one slip of the tongue that the agents made — recorded on tape — when talking among themselves. He adds that when the defense asked for further recordings, the FBI provided two blank CDs, claiming the recording devices malfunctioned.
“There’s no real way of looking at this other than to say that it is a cover-up,” contends Goldstein.
Professor of Law at George Washington University, Stephen Saltzburg told NPR,
“The theory behind this search is scary. It means the government can cut off your service, intentionally, and then pretend to be a repair person, and then while they’re there, they spend extra time searching your house. It is scary beyond belief.”
This isn’t simply limited to the Internet either, if accepted by the court, electricity, plumbing, water lines or any other service you could imagine, could be cut off to a residence.
In a motion to suppress the warrantless search, the defense stated:
The notion that an individual “consents” to such searches—so that the government is free to ignore the Fourth Amendment’s explicit warrant requirement—is, in a word, absurd. Our lives cannot be private—and our personal relationships intimate—if each physical connection that links our homes to the outside world doubles as a ready-made excuse for the government to conduct a secret, suspicionless, warrantless search. Only a few remote log cabins lack any Internet, electric, gas, water, cable, or telephone service. But the Constitution does not require us to sever all those connections—and live as hermitic luddites—to protect ourselves from the government’s prying eyes and secret cameras. A ruling upholding these intrusions would cause innocent Americans to live their daily lives burdened with the palpable sense that their government is regularly scheming to spy on them in their homes.
“It’s very difficult to understand, unless they want to try to push the law of consent beyond where it’s ever gone before,” said Saltzburg.
This does more than simply push the boundary of what is acceptable practice, it completely rewrites the tactics that are acceptable for law enforcement to engage in during an investigation.
The defense motion eloquently added:
“If this Court authorizes this duplicity, the government will be free to employ similar schemes in virtually every context to enter the homes of perfectly innocent people. Agents will frequently have no incentive to follow the warrant procedure required by the Constitution.”
If the feds actions are accepted by the court, the legal rules by which law enforcement is allowed to operate would be substantially changed to the detriment of privacy rights and justice, vastly skewing things away from liberty and dramatically towards a police state.
Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, freethinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis and on Facebook at Sir Metropolis.