The alleged ringleader of a multistate illegal gambling ring has been the target of undercover FBI surveillance for the last three years, prosecutors said Thursday.
A federal magistrate denied bail for David Stroj, nicknamed "Fat Dave," after prosecutors successfully argued that Stroj could flee the country to avoid trial for illegal gambling, money laundering and other charges. Stroj will remain in jail until at least Dec. 15.
Court records reveal that Stroj has three prior convictions for bookmaking and connections to the Philadelphia mafia. The defendant is among 25 indicted in the conspiracy to launder millions from high-stakes card games.
Stroj pleaded not guilty to the charges Thursday afternoon. His mother, father and sister were at that hearing to show their support for Stroj and his brother, Robert, who was also indicted in the gambling case.
Outside court, Stroj’s father told NBC 7 that his son is innocent and said the government's allegations are “a joke."
According to the FBI, "Fat Dave" claims he ran a gambling operation that spanned the globe, with headquarters in San Diego. Stroj allegedly used two local casinos, the Palomar Card Club in North Park and the Seven Mile Casino in Chula Vista, to launder his illegal profits.
State agents shut down those card rooms Wednesday morning during a series of raids. About 20 suspects were arrested across the country, and another five were charged in the federal indictment.
But Stroj avoided that public spectacle by quietly surrendering at 11 a.m. Wednesday to the FBI headquarters in Sorrento Mesa.
"Fat Dave" has been an FBI target for more three years, prosecutors revealed. Agents tapped his phone and used undercover surveillance to build their case.
They searched his downtown condo at 5th and K in the Gaslamp Quarter for evidence of what the government says was a $10 million illegal gambling operation.
Prosecutors also say Stroj supplied prostitutes for his customers and used offshore gambling websites to manage his illegal business.
According to the indictment, Stroj would have bookmaking clients write checks to the card rooms so it would be deposited into another player's account. Federal officials say that money would then be withdrawn in cash or chips. This also occurred with the Wynn and Bellagio casinos in Las Vegas, federal officials allege.
"Fat Dave" took approximately $2 million a month in gambling activity, making about $500,000 profit, federal officials claim.