Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a North Carolina man was indicted today on charges that he brought millions of dollars in counterfeit poker chips to Atlantic City to use in a poker tournament at The Borgata Casino. The scheme was discovered after he allegedly clogged a pipe at the Harrah’s Casino Hotel by flushing hundreds of chips down the toilet in his room.
Christian Lusardi, 43, of Fayetteville, N.C., was indicted by an Atlantic County grand jury on charges of second-degree trademark counterfeiting, second-degree attempted theft by deception and third-degree criminal mischief. The case was investigated by the New Jersey State Police Casino Investigations Unit and the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau-Casino Prosecution Unit.
Lusardi participated as a player in the Borgata’s “Winter Poker Open,” which began on Jan. 14, 2014. The tournament, which was supposed to continue for three weeks, was terminated after just three days due to the discovery of the counterfeit poker chips. The counterfeit chips were discovered after guests at Harrah’s Casino Hotel reported a leak in the sewer line in two adjoining hotel rooms. Hotel staff found that the leak was caused by Borgata poker chips that had been flushed down a toilet. A total of 494 gray $5,000 chips and nine mustard $25,000 chips were extracted from the plumbing and turned over to the Borgata. The total face value of the chips was $2,695,000. The chips were examined and determined to be counterfeit Borgata Winter Poker Open Tournament poker chips. Stickers with a counterfeit Borgata trademark were affixed to the chips to make them appear authentic.
The tournament was suspended by the Borgata on Jan. 17, and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) issued an order canceling the tournament on Jan. 18. An audit of the chips used in the tournament revealed 160 counterfeit $5,000 chips. Lusardi allegedly was responsible for putting those chips into play during the first two days of the tournament. In addition, 22 more fake $5,000 chips were found in a clogged toilet in a men’s room at the Borgata on Jan. 18. The total face value of the counterfeit chips recovered was $3,605,000. The State Police quickly identified Lusardi as the man allegedly responsible for the counterfeit chips, and he was arrested on Jan. 24 at another hotel in Atlantic City. It is alleged that Lusardi ordered the poker chips over the Internet from a manufacturer in China and affixed the counterfeit logo stickers to them. DGE Director David Rebuck later issued an order directing the fair distribution of remaining prize funds and refund of entry fees by the Borgata.
“Lusardi’s alleged scheme to play high-stakes poker with counterfeit chips played out like a Hollywood movie plot, in which the leak that exposed him came not from a human source but from a sewer pipe,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “As theatrical as this was, we cannot lose sight of the serious nature of this financial crime. By allegedly betting with phony chips, Lusardi cheated other players and cost the Borgata hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tournament revenues.”
“The Division of Criminal Justice works closely with the New Jersey State Police and the Division of Gaming Enforcement to keep criminal elements out of Atlantic City’s casinos and aggressively investigate and prosecute any crimes that are uncovered,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “While our casino prosecution unit files well over 100 cases every year, this case certainly stands out as one of the most colorful we have seen in recent memory.”
“When you gamble on a flush in high-stakes poker, you either win big or lose big,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Lusardi lost big when his alleged scheme was foiled by a leaking sewer pipe, which led to his quick apprehension by the New Jersey State Police Casino Investigations Unit.”
The poker chips caused nearly $10,000 in damage to the plumbing at the Harrah’s Casino Hotel. That is the basis for the charge of criminal mischief.
The case was presented to the Atlantic County grand jury by Deputy Attorney General Kerry DiJoseph of the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau-Casino Prosecution Unit. It was investigated by Detective Sgt. Arthur Ferrari and Detective Sgt. 1st Class Eric Hubbs of the State Police Casino Investigations Unit.
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
The indictment was handed up in Superior Court in Atlantic County, where Lusardi will be ordered to appear at a later date for arraignment on the charges. The indictment is merely an accusation and Lusardi is presumed innocent until proven guilty.