Judge to fraudster: Play poker or go to prison

By Daniel Tencer
Sunday, August 8, 2010 12:37 EDT
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As criminal punishments go, this one’s a royal flush. A convicted scam artist in Albuquerque has been given a novel order by the judge sentencing him: Go play poker.

Samuel McMaster, Jr., a former insurance agent and poker player, pleaded guilty to 26 felony charges, including securities fraud, in a New Mexico courtroom last week, reported KOB TV. He was accused of bilking investors of their money, and using at least some of the proceeds to fund his poker playing.

“The financial records showed a lot of withdrawals from ATM machines at different casinos and we have lots of evidence to show he likes to play poker,” prosecutor Phyllis H. Bowman said.

McMaster faces up to 12 years in prison, but the judge agreed to the defense lawyer’s request for a unique punishment. The judge suspended the sentence for six months, to give McMaster a chance to pay back some of the $440,000 he took from investors.

If McMaster can consistently pay $7,500 per month to his victims for the next six months, he will face a reduced prison sentence. And to make it possible for him to earn that kind of cash, the judge has allowed him to travel out of state to play in poker tournaments.

“There’s nothing to indicate that he’s a violent threat to society,” Bowman said, as quoted at Gambling Online. “So based upon those factors, that’s what determines conditions of release. It has nothing to do with profession.”

KOB-TV reported:

He confessed to asking his insurance clients to invest in promissory notes and CD’s issued by his company Santa Fe Financial Group Inc., promising a high interest return.

Instead, more than 20 investors didn’t get what they were promised or their money back. It turns out McMaster is also a professional poker player, which explains to prosecutors where some of the money was going.

McMaster will be back in court to face sentencing in May of next year.

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