Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a North Carolina man was sentenced to state prison today for bringing 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 clogged a pipe at the Harrah’s Casino Hotel by flushing hundreds of counterfeit chips down the toilet in his room.
Christian Lusardi, 43, of Fayetteville, N.C., was sentenced to five years in state prison by Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. in Atlantic County. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 13 to charges of second-degree trademark counterfeiting and third-degree criminal mischief, which were contained in an indictment obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice. Lusardi must pay restitution of $463,540 to the Borgata to cover revenues it lost on the poker tournament and $9,455 to Harrah’s Casino Hotel to pay for the plumbing damage he caused with the poker chips. That damage was the basis for the criminal mischief charge.
Deputy Attorney General Kerry DiJoseph prosecuted Lusardi and Deputy Attorney General Yvonne Maher handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau-Casino Prosecution Unit. The case was investigated by the New Jersey State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice. Detective Sgt. Arthur Ferrari and Detective Sgt. 1st Class Eric Hubbs were lead detectives for the State Police Casino Investigations 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. Investigators discovered that $800,000 in counterfeit chips had been put into play during the first two days of the tournament.
“While Lusardi’s bungled attempt to dispose of his phony chips was suitable for a Hollywood comedy, the truth is he committed very serious crimes in carrying out his high-stakes counterfeiting scheme,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “In addition to facing a substantial prison sentence, he must pay nearly half a million dollars in restitution for sabotaging a major professional poker tournament.”
“Because of the large sums of money changing hands on their premises every day, casinos tend to attract counterfeiters, money launderers and other criminal schemers like Lusardi,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “That’s why we work closely with the New Jersey State Police and the industry to maintain maximum vigilance and aggressively prosecute crimes in the casinos.”
“Lusardi was playing with dirty money long before he flushed those chips down the toilet,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Today’s sentence, which includes substantial restitution, should serve as a warning to anyone considering similar schemes. I commend the State Police Casino Investigations Unit and our partnering agencies for an outstanding investigation and prosecution.”
The counterfeit chips were discovered on Jan. 16, 2014, 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, 2014, and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) issued an order canceling the tournament on Jan. 18. DGE Director David Rebuck later issued an order directing the fair distribution of remaining prize funds and refund of entry fees by the Borgata. An audit of the chips used in the tournament revealed 160 counterfeit $5,000 chips, which were put 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 responsible for the counterfeit chips, and he was arrested on Jan. 24 at another hotel in Atlantic City. Lusardi ordered the poker chips over the Internet from a manufacturer in China and affixed the counterfeit logo stickers to them.