Developer Of Bookmaking Software Gets Full Kim Dotcom Treatment For 'Promoting Gambling'

from the ridiculous dept

The government’s war on online gambling is really ridiculous in a variety of ways. Initially, it was driven by a weird mix of moralist groups, backed by offline casinos who didn’t want the competition — all leading to a bill that effectively (through convoluted means) banned online gambling as a part of a law to protect our ports. The casinos are now regretting their initial support for this law, because they want to get into the online gambling world themselves. But the law is in place, and US (both federal and state) law enforcement has supported it and related laws with ridiculous fervor; arresting execs of off-shore gambling sites and even execs of financial institutions that provide payment systems for online gambling sites. As with the over-aggressive enforcement of copyright law, the Justice Department has also seized many websites, sometimes even seizing the wrong websites.

However, this latest story shows just how ridiculous some of these efforts are, and just how far they can go in creating chilling effects. It’s the story of the arrest and criminal charges against Robert Stuart, his wife and his brother-in-law for the work they did for their company, Extension Software. The company provides infrastructure to companies that do sports bookmaking, but they were careful to only license the software to companies in countries where such things are legal.

For their troubles they got “the full Kim Dotcom treatment” according to a writeup in Wired:

The case began in February 2011, when Stuart says he and his wife got the Kim Dotcom treatment after about 30 local Arizona law enforcement agents wearing SWAT gear and camouflage dress — some of them with bushes attached to their shoulders to blend into the woods around his house — descended on his home and threatened to send him and his wife to prison for 35 years if he didn’t cooperate.

The search warrant used in the raid said Stuart and his wife were engaged in money laundering, operating an illegal enterprise and engaging in the promotion of gambling. Stuart has tried to obtain a copy of the affidavit used to get the search warrant, but it’s currently sealed.

Yup. They sent in a SWAT team to deal with… a software developer. Because some companies who use his software might possibly have used it to allow gambling in New York (the state that’s behind the charges against him). And the warrant itself is sealed, so he doesn’t even know why. Then the story gets even worse. In typical law enforcement fashion, they pressured him into doing a plea deal, in which he would have been forced to install backdoor code into his software, and then hack into his own customers to retrieve information on their users any time law enforcement wanted it. He initially agreed to the plea bargain based on bad advice from what he calls “rent-a-lawyers” he found on the internet. However, before it could go before a judge, he wisely backed out.

The NY’s DA has defended this effort claiming that it was all perfectly aboveboard and legal to send a SWAT team to threaten a software developer into hacking into his own customers’ data for the sake of law enforcement:

Although Daniel R. Alonso, chief assistant in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, was reluctant to discuss the terms of the confidential plea agreement or how his office planned to implement them, he insisted there was nothing unlawful about what was proposed.

“The provision you have questioned is perfectly consistent with the obligations of all law enforcement officials to follow state and federal law to secure evidence of criminal conduct,” Alonso said in an e-mail statement. “The staff of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office involved in this case, both prosecutors and investigators, have behaved ethically and consistent with their obligation to seek justice in every case.”

Eighteen months went by… and then last fall he was criminally indicted — though all of the original charges used in his initial threat had disappeared (because they were bogus) and all the NY DA could come up with was a single charge of “promoting gambling in the first degree.” Yes, because he supplies software in places where it’s completely legal.

If you think secondary liability issues are important (and I do!), this case should be a major concern. The guy here just developed some useful software and sold it where it was legal to do so. That should not lead to a SWAT team descending on your house, or facing criminal charges and possible jail time. Blame the users of the software if they broke the law, but nothing that these guys did involved “promoting gambling” in areas where it was illegal. It was about providing legal infrastructure (not promotional) software. The whole thing is a shame, and shows how law enforcement’s aggressiveness in trying to show themselves as being “tough on crime” can have serious implications.

Stuart notes that he’s lost a bunch of his customers since the indictment, which may destroy his business entirely. And this can only lead to greater concern for other software developers as well. If they license software for completely legal purposes, but the software is then used in commission of a crime, are they suddenly (1) going to be threatened at gunpoint to hack into their customers’ accounts and (2) then charged on trumped up charges as well?

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Comments on “Developer Of Bookmaking Software Gets Full Kim Dotcom Treatment For 'Promoting Gambling'”

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John Doe says:

Sounds like this case accomplished the Gov'ts goals

Stuart notes that he’s lost a bunch of his customers since the indictment, which may destroy his business entirely.

Kim Dotcom and now this guy are out of business which is really all the Gov’t and it’s lobbyists care about anyway. No, they haven’t accomplished that through legal means, but through guys with guns kicking down doors. But the result is all they care about so mission accomplished.

iambinarymind (profile) says:

Who Knows....

With the type of logic displayed by the government in this case, in the near future could we see single mothers going after condom manufacturers for child support?

Maybe the government should go after printer ink manufacturers in libel/defamation lawsuits.

This is the result of the so called “justice system” being a government monopoly funded through theft. Any “service” that, through aggression/violence or threat thereof, gets paid no matter the results while holding a monopoly…is going to be a dismal “service”.

Try consensual relationships & voluntary exchange instead.

snidely (profile) says:

Good Precedent?

This might not be a bad precedent…you could go after every gun manufacturer for promoting murder in the first degree.

On a more serious note, I don’t see how a case like this would ever be successful. As the defendant, you could point to hundreds of products used in the promotion of gambling (electricity, Windows products, Google products). You can also easily make the case that automobile manufacturers aren’t sued when their cars are used in a crime or gun manufacturers either.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Good Precedent?

And yet despite how unsuccessful it may be in the end we have severe collateral damage coming from over-aggressive law enforcement including but not limited to:

– Business ruined (customers run away)
– Finances ruined (not everybody is Kim Dotcom who can stand for that long without going completely bankrupt)
– Health ruined (whatever the outcome is, he is undergoing a lot of stress and this will cause health problems)
– Possible relationship ruin (STC guy got dumped by wife after a lot of pressure)
– Psychological damage (really, you are raided, threatened, get a lawsuit you can’t know what for because its sealed etc etc.. and retain your full sanity after over 1 and 1/2 year of fighting…)

And some people believe the 4th Amendment is old-fashioned. Right.

McCrea (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Good Precedent?

Yes, of course I considered that before I made my statement.

The primary purpose of guns is to kill animals.

In my non expert observation, that is legal more often than it is criminal. First, hunting is more common that human conflict. Secondly, even human conflict is often legal. Thirdly, the incidence in legal military conflict outweighs the incidence of criminal activity. I might be wrong on exactness, but the primary purpose of guns is definitely not criminal.

WysiWyg (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good Precedent?

Now I’m not a professional hunter, but I am of the impression that firearms such as handguns and assault rifles (to name the few I can think of) aren’t very useful when hunting (animals).

But I’ll give you that “guns” isn’t properly defined. Personally I think of HANDguns when I hear “guns”.

Second and thirdly doesn’t apply, since the whole argument was that it doesn’t matter (according to this case) if the item in question is used legally or not, just that it’s primary use COULD be illegal.

Anonymous Coward says:

we all know who started these bogus charges (US entertainment industries). we all know why they were started. we did absolutely nothing about it originally. we do nothing about now nor will we be able to. when overly aggressive laws are brought in by certain industries they have to take the crap they created as well. good job in that respect. hard luck on this guy though. it shows how law enforcement think they can do whatever they like to justify their presence and means of operation. could be worse. a guy got done for designing a torrent website. the judge reckoned he should have known it would be used for illegal downloading. what bollocks!!

anonymouse says:

Re: Re:

The interesting think is what the court will do in this case, it is obviously a problem that the DOJ is taking on these cases for there friends to stifle competition, but to allow them to get away with it will just encourage them to do it again and again. I think a hearty does of payback is due here, maybe a small 100 million dollar fine for infringing on the peoples right and the illegal obtaining of a warrant to instill fear so that they could manipulate someone into breaking the law on there behalf.

We all know by now that the DOJ is a joke around the world and any country that works with them in any way deserves the massive amounts they will end up having to pay like in the Kim Dotcom case with NZ possibly going to have to pay out a lot of money.

Hopefully this will get to a judge that must understand if his ruling does not right the wrongs here in this case, that the justice system will be questioned by everyone, as for sealed records if they are unsealed and nothing is found that was in any way responsible for them being sealed then the DOJ must lose the right to hide the facts from any defendant or anyone for that matter going forward, this is the second case where documents that were sealed had no reason to be sealed. If anything this needs to stop now, before the DOJ gets the US taxpayers paying billions in settlement costs. Sorry on medication and not seeing straight but i wanted to comment so bad.

WysiWyg (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“I think a hearty does of payback is due here, maybe a small 100 million dollar fine for infringing on the peoples right […]”

So the good citizen of New York gets shafted for another 100 million, and the people who actually did something wrong gets a… what? A shrug? A “better luck next time”?

This is a major problem as I see it; any penalties for misbehaving is paid by someone else, quite often the victims themselves (indirectly).

Anonymous Coward says:

If they license software for completely legal purposes, but the software is then used in commission of a crime, are they suddenly (1) going to be threatened at gunpoint to hack into their customers’ accounts and (2) then charged on trumped up charges as well?

Really? The plea agreement was held at gunpoint? You seriously undermine your argument with these absurd flights of fancy. Why not simply deal with the facts rather than dressing up in your Drama Queen attire (again).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Really? The plea agreement was held at gunpoint? You seriously undermine your argument with these absurd flights of fancy. Why not simply deal with the facts rather than dressing up in your Drama Queen attire (again).”

I wonder if you say the same thing when the RIAA/MPAA say that without copyright nothing would ever be created again. If that isn’t an absurd flight of fancy I don’t know what is. And I think it’s quite the Drama Queen act to say that one person downloading one movie is now singlehandedly responsible for a florist now being out of work and being unable to put food on the table for his family.

But yeah, can’t pass up a chance to take a shot at Mike, right?

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Compared to every other civilised country on the planet, the USA’s criminal plea deals are absolutely classed as duress.

But hey keep jailing your citizens (most population incarcerated per head on the planet), keep stopping your innovative industries, keep becoming more and more closed minded until you understand that the rest of the world ( that 95% of humanity that actually cares about each other as a species and not as a commodity) actually doesn’t care about your so called moralistic laws and watch the USA go further into obscurity and economic depression (or even bankruptcy) over the next decade.

The only worry we would have is that you try to take the rest of us with you under your M.A.D. policies

Anonymous Coward says:

I totally agree with you here, however I have a problem regarding another case that shares similarities.

In France, Bull and Amesys sold “Internet monitoring systems” to Gaddafi which were then used to spy on Libyan population, which led to arrest and torture of dissidents.

When they were sold to Libya, the legality of those systems in France was not very clear and there is now a controversy on whether they should be considered as weapons and banned from exportations.
However at that time they were legal in Libya (and not illegal in France), so even if they were illegal in France, following your argument based solely on the legality in the country where it was used does not hold.

There are differences in those two cases:
1. Eagle (the monitoring system sold to Gaddafi) can be considered as a weapon with human lives on the line (where gambling is not directly a threat to human lives)
2. The scale is not really the same
3. Clients cannot be considered equivalently (but remember that at that time, Gaddafi was not considered to be bad)

So can you complete your argument to extend it beyond only the legality of a service/software in some parts of the world, or explain why it is not necessary?

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Id guess the argument remains. The people that sold the software must not be liable for Gaddafi’s actions. If I understood it, the software could be used by a company to prevent employees from accessing content and monitor their activities.

So in summary: do you think that because the software can be used at the lowest infrastructure level and Gaddafi used it to evil means the original makers should be held liable? Could they have fathomed the true intentions of the dictator?

Going deeper than that, do you believe that genetic modification researchers should be blamed for some loon that used their methods to produce a lethal bacteria for mass attacks?

How can you judge when it’s necessary to ban a determined sale of your software/product to someone by yourself without knowing something the Government supposedly does?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m not sure I understand your point.

If the systems sold to Libya were legal to be sold to & in Libya (whether or not there was “controversy”, then the seller was acting lawfully.

In the case of the gambling software, it was legal to sell to & in the places where they sold it, so the seller was acting lawfully.

In both cases, it is a miscarriage of justice to legally prosecute the sellers for complying with the law.

Michael (profile) says:

they were careful to only license the software to companies in countries where such things are legal

Lesson learned. You are WAY better off developing software that is illegal to use in the US if you live and work outside of the US. Then, you can develop, market, and sell it wherever you want (including to people in the US) without fear of being arrested. Well, unless the US decides it is going to just send it’s law enforcement all over the world to enforce it’s laws on anyone it wants to, then they can still shut down your company and probably arrest you (at least if you live in the UK or New Zealand), but at least none of the tax revenue you generated or jobs you may have created will be in the US.

On a side note, do you think we could use this software to take bets on if and when Dotcom will be extradited?

Rob Apanet says:

Re: Re:

Belize and Curaco are where its at. Short flight just outside US jurisdiction, some excellent new LIV complaint data centes getting built, and some gnarly fibre pipes passing by that link direct into East Coast hubs. Live without the daily stress and grind of the US, in hawaiian shirts board shorts and flipflops, and run a multimillion dollar business from your beachside or mountain cabana safely out of the reach of Uncle Sam, the IRS, and swat team goons.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well at least they did not claim it was for the children. That’s normally their most popular excuse when it comes to bending the fuck out of the law to do what they please.
Then in second we have “no surprise here” terrorist like activities such as trying to board a flight with a fucking soda. Gotta be careful them Coke and Mentos bombs can be deadly as shit. “Ow me eye”

But mister officer I’m six..
Yeah yeah it’s not like I’ve heard that one before… The ol I’m six… pfft tell it to the judge you evil little bastard.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not only software developers

This is troubling, but not only for software developers. It is also very troubling for software users.

We now have a documented case where a US-based developer was strongly pressured into adding a backdoor to his software.

If you use software developed within the US, there is a risk that a US-based developer is pressured into adding a backdoor. It is much safer to use software developed outside the US.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Not only software developers

We now have a documented case where a US-based developer was strongly pressured into adding a backdoor to his software.

It’s far from the first. It’s pretty well-known that this happens, and is one of the reasons why it is generally unwise to trust software you didn’t write or inspect to keep your privacy intact.

My standard practice is to firewall liberally, on all my computers (including my cellphone). No software can engage in any networking at all without my explicit permission. It’s amazing how much software that has no need on connectivity to perform its function tries to talk to someone over the net anyway.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Ahh, my mistake. Yes.

In an earlier phase of my career, I developed and worked with strong crypto systems. The laws were more restrictive then than they are now. If crypto was developed in the US, it couldn’t be exported. It could be imported from other countries, though. As a result, all crypto development was moved out of the US.

This munitions law is the primary reason the US is not the leader in crypto technology today.

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