Civil Liberties

FBI Knocks Out Hotel-Casino Internet, Agents 'Fix' It Without Warrant



Have you ever worried that when your Internet goes it, it just might be a federal agent cutting the wires? And that when the cable guy shows up to fix it, he's also actually a federal agent in disguise, filming you and everyone else in your residence to build a case against you? That sounds pretty paranoid, but it's exactly what happened to several men who were arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino.

In June, FBI agents teamed up with a hotel employee to deliberately disconnect the Internet to rooms occupied by eight men allegedly participating in an illegal betting ring, including Paul "Wei Sing" Phua, who is allegedly a "high-ranking member" of the organized crime group 14K Triad. The agents entered the rooms with the employees help and filmed the interiors in order to build evidence against the group.

Whether Phau and seven other men are guilty is yet to be determined, and Phua's lawyer says it's beside the point; the case should be thrown out. The men didn't consent to searches of their hotel rooms, but the hotel employee allowed the FBI into the rooms anyway, a clear violation the defendants' Fourth Amendment rights, which protect people from unwarranted searches and seizures.

Furthermore, the attorney writes in a motion to suppress the fruits of the warrantless search, "It is apparent that the agents themselves harbored grave doubts about the constitutionality and legality of what they were doing, because they engaged in an extraordinary cover up." All of the information about the plot—the use of video cameras, the coordination among federal and state agencies and a hotel employee, the deliberate disabling of the Internet connection in order to enter the rooms (despite the fact the connection couldn't even really be repaired from the inside)—were all omitted when the FBI later submitted a probable cause warrant. Instead, they "falsely characterized the warrantless searches…as if the agents had responded to an actual outage."

The movants have been unable to find a single time in which any law enforcement agency in the country has ever resorted to using a scheme like this one…. Unsurprisingly, every court to consider anything remotely similar has found it flagrantly unconstitutional.

The defendant argues that "if the court authorizes this duplicity, the government will be free to employ similar schemes in virtually every context" and that "our lives cannot be private…if each physical connection that links our homes to the outside world doubles as a ready-made excuse for the government to conduct a secret, suspicionless, warrantless search."