Brooklyn gambler charged in sports betting scheme involving NBA player, likely banned Raptor Jontay Porter

NEW YORK — A high-rolling gambler conspired with a former NBA player — likely Toronto Raptors player Jontay Porter — to rig two basketball games this year as part of a sports betting scheme that has attracted widespread attention, prosecutors alleged Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn charged Long Phi Pham, 38, who was described in court as one of the top 1% poker players in the world, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with the scheme.

Though the complaint against Pham doesn’t name Porter, a number of facts laid out in the court filing point to him as the NBA player recruited into the scheme, with prosecutors even quoting the NBA’s April 17 press release announcing Porter’s lifetime ban.

The complaint against Pham says that “Player 1” amassed “significant gambling debts” with other members of the conspiracy, and agreed to leave two games early so gamblers with bets on his performance could win big, the feds allege.

On Jan. 22, “Player 1” suffered a purported eye injury during a game, and got a diagnosis for a corneal abrasion — but he wasn’t placed on the NBA’s injury list, the feds allege.

He told Pham that he’d be he pulling himself from the team’s Jan. 26 game against the L.A. Clippers, which he did, after playing just four minutes and scoring zero points, three rebounds and an assist, prosecutors said.

He told team officials he had reaggravated the eye injury, and as a result, one co-conspirator won $40,250 off a $7,000 bet, while the relative of a co-conspirator got $85,000 from a $10,000 bet, according to the feds.

Player 1 also left a March 20 game after just three minutes, which Pham and his cohorts learned about in advance, the feds allege. They planned their bets in a Telegram group chat, with Pham getting 24% of the proceeds, and in all, they made more than $1 million in “under prop” bets,” the feds allege.

The allegations against Player 1 track the NBA’s statements regarding Porter. The NBA opened an investigation into Porter after the March 20 game and concluded that he “violated league rules by disclosing confidential information to sports bettors, limiting his own participation in one or more games for betting purposes, and betting on NBA games,” the league said in the April 17 statement.

On April 4, Player 1 had warned his co-conspirators they “might just get hit w a rico,” the feds allege.

Porter is the second person to be banned from the NBA under Adam Silver, who became commissioner in 2014. The first was former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after audio caught him making racist comments.

He’s not charged in the conspiracy.

Pham booked a one-way ticket to Australia a day after investigators tried to interview one of his co-conspirators, Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Weintraub said at his arraignment in Brooklyn Federal Court Tuesday. Law enforcement officers arrested him as he was boarding his flight at JFK Airport on Monday. He had about $12,000 in cash; two cashier’s checks totaling $80,000, a series of betting slips and three cell phones, according to the criminal complaint.

“Whether on the court or in the casino, every point matters. As alleged, the defendant and his co-conspirators, as well as an NBA player, participated in a brazen, illegal betting scheme that had a corrupting influence on two games and numerous bets,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said.

Pham, who wore a gray “Jordan” sweatshirt, denied having the cashier’s check at his arraignment, telling Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollack, after she warned him to let his lawyer do the talking, “I don’t need to talk to my attorney. There’s no $80,000 cashier’s check, and if there is, you can cuff me now.”

Weintraub pointed out that prosecutors had photos of the cashier’s checks.

Pham’s lawyer, Michael Soshnick, tried to get him released on a bond secured by his three sisters, but Weintraub objected, saying that one of the sisters is “potentially involved in a money laundering activity.” He also said Pham was involved in organized underground poker games.

Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollack rejected Pham’s bail application, though she allowed him to re-apply Wednesday with more appropriate suretors.

“You’ll note that that sister has never been charged with anything,” Soshnick said. “The government put my client’s family before the court as people who are involved in illegal activities, and I took offense. ... These are all good people.”