The man who threw a Borgata tournament into disarray after introducing counterfeit poker chips pleaded guilty this week to a charge of second-degree trademark counterfeiting.
Christian Lusardi, 43, purchased the phony chips online and crudely added a Borgata logo before using them in the casino’s “Winter Poker Open” in January of last year. After cashing for $6,814 in the tournament, Lusardi grew paranoid about the scheme and began flushing some $2.7 million of the fake chips down the toilet of his Harrah’s Casino hotel room.
But all did not go as planned, as the chips clogged the hotel’s plumbing and caused leaks in the adjoining rooms. Investigators found another $110,000 in phony chips clogging up a Borgata men’s room toilet, along with the $800,000 in chips Lusardi used during the tournament.
Lusardi’s ex-wife later admitted to investigators that her ex-husband had bought the chips online from somewhere in China. She claimed that he even had his daughter help him to alter the chips so that they seemed genuine.
The ruse will cost him dearly. As part of Lusardi’s plea deal, prosecutors will recommend a prison sentence of five years and order the 43-year-old to pay $463,540 to the Borgata as compensation for revenue lost due to the debacle. Lusardi will be forced to pay a further $9,455 to Harrah’s for damage to plumbing caused by Lusardi’s attempts to flush the evidence.
“Lusardi’s counterfeiting scheme sabotaged a major professional poker tournament at the Borgata, not to mention the plumbing at Harrah’s Casino Hotel,” said Atty. Gen. John Hoffman. “In addition to facing a substantial prison sentence, Lusardi must pay nearly half a million dollars in restitution.”
Borgata officials immediately canceled the tournament after discovering the counterfeit chips. But further complicating matters was how to address the remaining players and how to divvy up the tournament prize money. Last year, the 27 remaining players sued the Borgata for several counts of negligence. In the end, the Division of Gaming Enforcement ordered that the remaining $1.4 million in prize money be split amongst the entire tournament field. The casino also refunded the $60 rake which players paid on top of their $500 entry fee.
After the incident, Borgata purchased costly state-of-the-art ships which include several anti-fraud features, like an intricate new design and the ability to be recognized with ultraviolet light.
This wasn’t Lusardi’s first time getting in trouble with the law. In 2008, the North Carolina native was busted for running an illegal gambling ring out of his home. Police seized $10,000 from Lusardi during the operation, along with poker tables, flatscreen TVs, surveillance cameras and gambling paraphernalia.
Coincidentally, authorities were already investigating the 43-year-old for a different crime when he was caught with the phony poker chips at Harrah’s. The Department of Homeland Security had become aware of Lusardi after the gambler had received packages containing counterfeit DVDs, also originating from China. After a search of Lusardi’s home, agents found counterfeiting equipment along with 35,500 pirated DVDs. Officials later revealed that Lusardi had made a substantial amount of money during the operation, receiving over $1.3 million in his PayPal account.
Lusardi pleaded guilty in that case as well, taking the rap for copyright infringement and trafficking in counterfeit labels. In April, he was sentenced to five years in prison and three years of probation, and was ordered to pay restitution of over $1.1 million.
“Could he have negotiated a dismissal of the state charges in exchange for his federal plea? Absolutely,” said PokerNews legal contributor Maurice VerStandig. “Is it odd that he pled guilty to both counts with which he was charged in federal court? Somewhat. Does this suggest federal and state prosecutors cooperated? Maybe. But is any of this a certainty? Absolutely not.”