Australian poker professional William “Billy” Jordanou has admitted to his part in a massive Ponzi scheme that robbed victims of A$72 million (USD$53.1 million).
The Melbourne resident has spent the last four years fighting the charges while free on bail, but he finally gave up that fight this week.
Jordanou pleaded guilty in a Melbourne courtroom, conceding that he manipulated bank documents to secure loans for his clients. That money, usually meant for property investments, was then taken from the clients’ accounts and to fund a high-roller lifestyle that made Jordanou a well-known figure in poker circles.
Also pleading guilty was 54-year-old Robert Zaia, who funnelled some US$20 million of the fraudulent funds into his family trust.
Anatomy of a Banking Scam
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) first noticed suspicious transactions in 2007, but didn’t notify police until 2011, according to court documents.
In the interim, Jordanou and Zaia used the money to finance a fleet of luxury cars, jet skis, boats, and high-roller gambling junkets to Las Vegas and Macau.
With the guilty pleas, the case will proceed straight to the sentencing phase. But that also leaves unanswered questions about several accusations.
In 2013, one victim who lost millions accused the CBA of gross negligence in their failure to properly check the loan application. Some went even further, claiming that the bank was complicit in the fraud.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, one former bank employee says he and at least two others knew about the bad loan applications.
“I looked at the file and I knew immediately what was going on. There were no pays lips or tax returns to support salary declarations and other documents were missing,” the bank employee said. “And it wasn’t uncommon for files to just disappear.”
The bank denied any wrongdoing in a statement released this week.
“Investigations by both CBA and Victoria Police however found no evidence of collusion or knowing involvement by bank staff in the Jordanou-Zaia frauds,” wrote bank officials.
From Casino to Clink
Jordanou, 59, has something of a poker resume, with about $592,000 in career winnings from 19 cashes between 2009 and 2013.
He has two first place finishes, both in Melbourne in 2009 — at the Joe Hachem Deep Stack Series, winning the A$1,650 NLH Shootout paid A$22,500 (US$14,404), and the Victorian Poker Championship, where he took down an A$25,200 high roller for A$200,000 (US$165,767).
His biggest and most notable cash came in the $100,000 High Roller at the 2010 Australia New Zealand Poker Tour (ANZPT) in Sydney. He finished third, behind Phil Ivey and Dan Shak for US$203,846.
He’s not the first from the poker world to be accused of running a Ponzi scheme. New Jersey native Evan Kochav was given eight years in jail for stealing $500,000 from his victims.
Sentences for Jordanou and Zaia are expected to be handed down at a later date.