Detention hearing nears for ‘PokerTribes’ creator Fereidoun ‘Fred’ Khalilian in murder-for-hire case

Haley Hintze
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Posted on: January 28, 2024 11:38 pm EST

An early-February detention hearing looms for Fereidoun “Prince Fred” Khalilian, the career con artist charged last year with orchestrating a murder-for-hire plot against a documentary filmmaker who has been producing an unfavorable documentary about Khalilian’s many misdeeds, including his years of attempting to become a significant player in the online-gambling industry.

Khalilian has been held without bond since being arrested last June in the attempted murder-for-hire of the filmmaker, referred to as “Juan Esco” in court documents. Last November, “Prince Fred” saw a second significant felony, witness tampering, added to the case.

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A photo of the staged murder scene included in the probable cause affidavit. PokerOrg has obscured the graphic portion of this photo.

The murder-for-hire attempt was unsuccessful and included the creation of a faked murder scene (shown at right) to fool Khalilian, since the former bodyguard Khalilian hired to kill the filmmaker instead cooperated with the FBI. That led to Khalilian being arrested in Las Vegas last June, just blocks away from where the world’s best poker players were gathered for the WSOP and other major poker series.

As it turns out, Khalilian faces a longer prison sentence for the subsequent witness tampering involving the bodyguard, who Khalilian and his associates urged to recant his testimony. If convicted on the murder-for-hire charge, Khalilian faces a sentence of up to 10 years, but the witness-tampering charge could tack on another 20 years.

Khalilian held as ‘flight risk’ and ‘danger to community’

Khalilian’s case was transferred last November to a Nevada federal court after originally being filed in California. On Thursday, US Magistrate Judge Elayna J. Youchah agreed to move an upcoming detention hearing up from February 14 to February 9 in response to Khalilian’s motion for shprtened time in the course of his case.

Prosecutors successfully argued that Khalilian was both a flight risk and a danger to the community at his initial arraignment, when bond was denied. In a recent filing, prosecutors expressed their belief that Khalilian will argue that bond should be granted, and they reiterated the many factors they believe favor Khalilian’s pre-trial detention.

“Defendant’s past and present conduct, particularly his willingness to repeatedly engage in deceptive conduct, also favor his continued detention,” the prosecutors wrote. “While defendant may promise to faithfully comply with this Court’s orders and appear at all proceedings, his word cannot be trusted. He had his friends and family contact [the bodyguard] to bribe him out of inculpating him at trial. He has repeatedly founded sham businesses whose mission is to lie to and defraud people, and he was twice sanctioned by the FTC for his scams.

“He has lied about even the most basic facts of his identity, misrepresenting himself as a Middle Eastern prince, often changing his country of origin. Defendant’s promises to this Court are as valuable as his false claims to royalty. And most crucial of all, he has proved his lack of respect for the justice system and inclination to frustrate it when he requested his friends and family contact [the bodyguard] and convince him to change his trial testimony.”

The prosecution filing also makes note of the “PokerTribes.com” and “PokerTribe.com” enterprises, in which Khalilian and his Universal Entertainment Group extracted more than $20 million combined from the two Oklahoma tribal nations in exchange for software that never worked, nor even advanced beyond anything but an on-paper overview and a prototype website featuring graphics at least a decade out of date.

Both tribal nations eventually jettisoned Khalilian and his company. The Cheyenne and Arapahos sued Khalilian and UEG but were unsuccessful in recovering any money due to the fine print of the business deal they had signed. The Iowas, after dumping Khalilian, launched a short-lived, UK-based site called Grey Snow Poker that lasted less than two years before folding in 2020.

One of Khalilian’s investors in the UEG software company, Atlanta website developer Stefano Grossi, eventually won a $4.7 million dollar judgment from Khalilian. Grossi successfully argued that Khalilian had used Grossi’s investment in UEG to continuing a lavish personal lifestyle. It is unknown, however, as to whether Grossi managed to recover any money from Khalilian or his business entities.

The Colombian angle, Part 1

Also included in the prosecutors’ arguments against bond for Khalilian are indications that the career conman was planning to relocate to Colombia. Investigators taped a jailhouse conversation between Khalilian and Blockchain Consulting Group’s Michael Halperin, who took over the role of interim CEO from Khalilian (who had founded the crypto startup) after Khalilian’s arrest.

Halperin told Khalilian that investors were fleeing the crypto startup as news spread about Khalilian’s murder-for-hire plot, which in turn shone a dark light on many other Khalilian misdeeds. In the recent court filing, prosecutors detail how Khalilian “exhorted Halperin to convince investors not to remove capital from the company and to get the current business ‘deal done.'”

Later, Khalilian added, “To prove to Halperin he still had capital to support the business, defendant suggested that before his arrest, he had already ‘… moved everything out. Offshore. Before I landed in U.S. Everything’s in Colombia.’ Thus, in defendant’s own words, he hid money abroad in anticipation of and because of his future arrest.”

Khalilian’s presence was quickly removed from the Blockchain Consulting Group site, which otherwise featured many prominent figures among its executives, board members, and investors. The company’s several co-founders include one poker-world figure of note, former Victory Poker CEO and later Ivey League CEO Dan Fleyshman. (Last summer, in the wake of Khalilian’s arrest, Fleyshman did not respond to a request for comment.)

The Colombian angle, Part 2

There appears to have been much more to Khalilian’s Colombia story than just moving his business interests there. Last month, Colombia’s El Pais detailed a story about Khalilian presenting himself as a “false Arab prince” who managed to charm and lie his way into the highest levels of Colombian society. Khalilian schmoozed with “the then-mayor of Medellín, Daniel Quintero, with military and police authorities, in addition to rubbing shoulders with the upper class of that city.”

According to one source, Khalilian lied about his supposedly royal background to Colombian political and military officials, including the creation of false documents and fake badges. The recent prosecutors’ filing for the upcoming detention hearing includes images of text messages to and from Khalilian that reference “Prince Khalifa’s Diplomatic Police team.”

Image source: Instagram @princefred

Such was the nature of Khalilian’s practiced charm that he also wooed and began a relationship with famed Colombian model Andrea Aguilera Arroyave, who was Colombia’s entrant in the 2022 Miss Earth Fire beauty pageant. Khalilian’s ruse fell apart with news of his arrest in the murder-for-hire plot, though not until he’d spent much of the 18 months before his arrest last summer in Las Vegas parading around Medellin and Bogota as fake royalty. Arroyave soon dumped Khalilian as well, stating that despite his charm, Khalilian engineered a toxic, manipulative, and controlling relationship.

What the next unexpected turn in the Khalilian saga will be remains to be seen, though in the short term that future is known – the upcoming detention hearing and, later this year, a trial with a possible 30 years in prison at stake.