High-rolling scammer must play poker to avoid prison

Albuquerque scam artist Samuel McMaster, Jr. received an unusual punishment for his 177 counts of investment fraud. As he used the swindled $400,000 to support a gambling habit, he must pay back the money by earning it at poker tournaments. The fine is $7,500 per month in winnings, and two consecutively missed payments will mean jail time.

McMaster racked up the cash by selling false securities and insurance products to dozens of New Mexicans with the promise of unusually high interest in return. "He came over and sweet-talked me to my $15,000," said Samuel F. Martinez of Sante Fe, who paid McMaster his son's college fund when he presented the Martinez family with a grandiose investment opportunity. He did the bulk of his swindling between 2001 and 2005, and was indicted by a grand jury in April of last year on counts of fraudulent security sales, embezzlement and racketeering. He ultimately disappeared with the money and admitted to throwing it on the table at poker tournaments.

Added up, McMaster will have to earn $90,000 at tournaments just to make the minimum payments. As one poker blogger put it, "He is going to have to play some pretty damn good cards to avoid jail." He faces up to 12 years in prison if he misses a payment -- which is a better deal than the original 549 years threatened upon indictment.

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