The New Mexico prosecutor who agreed to a deal earlier this month that will allow a financial scam artist to play in poker in tournaments to possibly win his freedom insists his profession is irrelevant to the case.
Former stockbrokler Samuel McMaster Jr., who has admitted to 26 felony charges of securities fraud, struck a deal Aug. 4 with New Mexico authorities that could allow him to stay out of prison provided he can earn enough money playing poker to repay the $444,000 he took from his more than 20 victims.
"There's nothing to indicate he is a violent threat to society," New Mexico prosecutor Phyllis Bowman told ABC News on Monday.
Bowman prosecutes cases for the securities division of the state's Regulation and Licensing Department. "The conditions of his release have nothing to do with his profession," she said.
McMaster, 59, eventually has to go back in front of a judge who can still sentence him up to 12 years.
"We're not talking about a get-out-jail-free card," Kelly O'Donnell, superintendent of the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department, said.
McMaster has declined to comment.
John Rhinehart, attorney for the card shark, reached Monday, stressed that his client has no other form of income at the moment. "The IRS came in and took everything," Rhinehart said. "He plays poker to make ends meet."
As part of the plea agreement entered before New Mexico District Court Judge Ross Sanchez, Rhinehart told the court that professional poker is his client's only source of income since being banned from the securities business. McMaster apparently has been playing poker to make ends meet. "He plays at Native American casinos here in New Mexico and also in Vegas and L.A.," Rhinehart said.
Rhinehart could not say how much money he'll have to wager, or how he'll afford to, as be begins literally playing for keeps -- his freedom, that is.
It's not likely McMaster can qualify for the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event that begins today. McMaster will be allowed to leave the state to play in tournaments as part of the deal. He has not had any success playing in poker tournaments since 2008, according to ESPN poker expert Andrew Feldman.
McMaster will be required to make restitution payments of $7,500 a month, according to the arrangement. His sentencing will be delayed for six months while he participates in tournaments in a bid to prove he can win enough cash to meet his payments.
If he misses two payments during the six-month period, McMaster will have to appear back in court where he will face immediate sentencing of up to 12 years imprisonment. McMaster originally faced up to 74 years.
"If he demonstrates an ability to successfully meet his restitution payments by playing poker, it potentially could sway the judge's decision on final sentencing," O'Donnell said. "How much jail time he gets ultimately is up to the judge."
Asked how McMaster's victims responded to the unusual plea bargain, O'Donnell said she was not aware of any indications of frustration or disapproval. Several of his victims were senior citizens.
On Monday, a spokeswoman for Judge Sanchez issued a brief statement: "The judge has conditionally accepted the plea and disposition agreement and will accept or reject the plea agreement in November after reading the pre sentence report."