Fourth Amendment

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." 

NEXT: So Many Problems at the Baltimore Police Department

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  1. The movants

    Tha FUCK? That’s not even a good band name, much less a word.

    Oh, OK – it’s a word in that other world know as “a courtroom”. Still – “movant” is banned in Almaniatopia

    1. I knew what that word meant. Don’t know what your problem is.

      Yeah, that’s the ticket.

    2. No, it’s not a courtroom, but a person that applies to the court for a ruling in his or her favor.

  2. Note that they were going after a gambling ring in LAS VEGAS. You know that city that is famous for having legal sports gambling? So the appalling behavior wasn’t even done in an attempt to stop actual crime. It was done to act as enforcers for the the legal casinos in Las Vegas. I mean God forbid anyone set up shop to compete with the operations that are paying the government protection money.

    Beyond that, these guys managed to do something truly remarkable. They managed to engage in behavior so appalling and blatantly illegal even DOJ couldn’t sign off on it. That is really staggering to contemplate.

    1. The DOJ guys just might get away with it.
      Recently some cops wanted to search a home, one occupant said OK but the other didn’t. The cops waited until the other one was out, arrested him, so that they could know he wouldn’t come home and went back, asking the one originally OK with it, to search. The Court upheld the results of the search.

  3. What do the agents have to lose for trying?

    1. With this kind of incentive structure, they’re going to do it every time. Every time.

    2. They’ll be severely reprimanded. REPRIMANDED, I tell you. Does that count for nothing?

      1. There might even be a 3 day suspension with pay, which Dunphy has assured us is not at all a paid vacation.

        1. Maybe they’ll get more Training.

        2. They’ll have to go home and think about what they did, when they’d much rather be on the job committing more crimes. Isn’t that punishment enough?

          1. That is called administrative leave Mad Scientist and it is no picnic. Siting home getting paid to do nothing for weeks or months is just awful.

            1. Truly, they are heroes.

  4. I’m confident the judge will reach deep and find some totality of the circs? reasoning for why this was done in accordance with our Constitution.

    1. I don’t think so. The evidence from this little charade is getting thrown out. That however doesn’t mean there isn’t other evidence that will convict these guys.

      The confident about two things; what these idiots did was criminal, and they will never be held accountable for doing it in any way.

  5. if the court authorizes this duplicity, the government will be free to employ similar schemes in virtually every context

    I’m not seeing the problem here.
    /every government employee ever

  6. The plot is ludicrous…you can imagine what happens next.

    He fixes her cable?

    1. Don’t be fatuous, Slammer.

  7. And for the record Oceans 11 has grown on me over the years. It is one of those movies that I find myself watching whenever I flip by it on cable. It is just a fun movie and the sort of escapist fun that can make Hollywood great.

    It is also further proof that actors are not what they once were since Elliot Gould and Karl Rheiner pick that movie up and walk away with it right under Clooney and Pitt’s noses.

  8. I don’t know the law here but can a hotel room really be considered a “home”? It’d be interesting to see what the fine print of the room rental contract says about what sort of level of privacy a guest can really expect.

    1. Yes it can. If you have exclusive control over it, it is your space and no different from you home. If it were, people who lived in rentals wouldn’t have any 4th Amendment privacy rights.

      The rule is that the government can’t get private parties to act as their agents to get around the 4th Amendment. So while the owner of the hotel staff can come in your room any time they want, the can’t do so at the government’s behest and the government can’t pretend to be them to enter the room.

      1. I see what you’re saying.

        SCOTUS wrote:
        2. A hotel guest is entitled to the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The hotel clerk had no authority to permit the room search, and the police had no basis to believe that petitioner had authorized the clerk to permit the search. Pp. 376 U. S. 488-490.

        Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if the casino (a line of business notorious for it’s extraordinary efforts to combat fraud and theft) had some clause in their rental agreements allowing this – or some standing agreement to assist LEO’s. But, barring that you’re right about this.

        1. It doesn’t matter. The Casino can’t waive your rights. The Casino doesn’t have the authority to let the cops into your room. So such a clause would be meaningless.

      2. I have a “funny” story. Back in 2000 I was selling my 12 yr remodeling project aka my house. My ex hadn’t lived there for years and my teenaged daughter was living with me. I went to work in the morning and after lunch a security guy comes to me and says “you better go home there’s trouble going on.” The cops meet me at the door and said that they were searching my daughters room for drugs because a buyer came into the house without waiting for the realtor and smelled weed.I asked who gave them permission to search and they pointed to my ex who was in the next room. I said she doesn’t live here and the cop said it doesn’t matter (being that I was just a dumb carpenter who wouldn’t know any different). I laughed at him and said “I’ll tell you what. You all go outside and I’ll lock the door and you ask her to open it.” They of course said no and after they found a small dried up bud that could have been broccoli and arrested my daughter I told them to please please bring it to court so I could laugh them out of it. We never heard back so I guess they changed their minds.

  9. I this another one of those reasons that Libertarians should vote Democrat?

  10. Don’t the Democrats run Las Vegas (Clark County)?

    1. I think they’re Replicrats.

      1. I doubt you’ll find a half dozen elected office holders in all of Clark County that are registered R’s….it is a wholly owned plantation of the service unions, and is the source of Harry Reid’s power.

  11. I am trying to figure out why anyone would go with an illegal sports-betting operation, when legal ones are just down the street.

    1. Cutting out the middleman, aka keeping more of the winnings.

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