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Internet poker company founder pleads not guilty to U.S. charges

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK, Feb 23 (Reuters) - The founder of what had been one of the largest online poker websites agreed on Thursday to confront U.S. charges stemming from a long-running criminal case targeting internet firms like his operating illegally in the United States.

Scott Tom, who founded Costa Rica-based Absolute Poker, pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court to charges he violated a federal internet gambling law and engaged in a money-laundering conspiracy.

Tom, a citizen of Saint Kitts and Nevis who lived in Antigua, arrived in the United States voluntarily from Barbados on Thursday to face the charges, prosecutors said.

He was released on a $500,000 bond following a court hearing. James Henderson, his lawyer, said in court he expected a plea deal soon.

"There's going to be a resolution in this case quickly," Henderson said.

Tom, 37, was one of 11 people indicted on April 15, 2011, a day dubbed "Black Friday" by the industry, in connection with a U.S. crackdown that targeted online poker companies Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker and PokerStars.

The three companies had become the largest online poker outfits doing business in the United States after Congress banned real-money gambling on internet card games in 2006. Prosecutors also accused the companies of money laundering.

According to prosecutors, the companies tricked banks into processing billions of dollars of illegal internet gambling proceeds through shell companies that appeared legitimate.

Before its shutdown in 2011 in connection with the case, Absolute Poker was the No. 3 internet poker operator doing business in the United States and had taken in about $500 million from U.S. residents, prosecutors said.

Twelve people overall were charged in the case, including Tom's stepbrother, Brent Beckley, who oversaw payment processing at Absolute Poker. He was sentenced in 2012 to 14 months in prison after pleading guilty.

The case is U.S. v. Tzvetkoff et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-cr-00336.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)