Guilty plea "U turn" for British online gambling businessman Carruthers

Not clear what motivated change only days before sentencing

Online gambling's long detained defendant in the United States, British businessman David Carruthers (52), has changed his guilty plea only days before being sentenced by an American court, reports the UK newspaper The Guardian.

Arrested whilst in transit through the US travelling as CEO of the now defunct Betonsports group in Costa Rica (see previous InfoPowa reports) Carruthers has spent three years under house arrest in St. Louis, Missouri.

In April this year he was reported to have reached an agreement with US Justice Department officials which would see him plead guilty on racketeering charges related to online gambling in return for a recommended penalty of 33 months' imprisonment. Sentencing was scheduled to take place in an American court this Friday.

But in the final days before the sentencing was due to take place this plea deal has abruptly broken down, The Guardian reveals. In a terse legal filing, the court noted this week that "the motion to set aside defendant David Carruthers's guilty plea is granted".

A "change of plea" hearing has been set for 14 October.

Neither Carruthers nor his lawyer, Scott Rosenblum, responded to The Guardian's requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the US attorney's office in St Louis said prosecutors would not discuss the case.

Carruthers's lawyers were expected to argue that he has effectively served his agreed sentence of 33 months through his hotel confinement on $1 million bail since August 2006.

The case against Carruthers drew international attention and accusations of judicial over-reach. Democratic Party Congressman Barney Frank, who is seeking to have online gambling legalised in the USA, has described the British citizen's airport arrest in 2006 and subsequent confinement as "one of the most Stalinist things I've ever seen my government do".

The Guardian reports that the reason for the decision by Carruthers to change his guilty plea is not at present clear.

Other defendants in the case, including Betonsports founder Gary Stephen Kaplan, have also entered guilty pleas following years of investigations and pressure.

The newspaper notes that America's prohibition of financial transactions relating to online betting has fallen foul of the World Trade Organisation, which ruled two years ago that the law breaches international agreements on fair trade.

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