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Poker Pro Aaron Mermelstein Robbed At Airport, Police Refuse To Release Surveillance Footage

Two-Time WPT Champion Loses $9,000 After Police Find His Missing Bag

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Mermelstein at the World Series of PokerLate last year, Aaron Mermelstein was on his way to Costa Rica to play in a poker tournament. He had already mentally prepared himself to lose his event buy-in. After all, that sort of result is common for those who grind the tournament ciruit. What he hadn’t planned on, however, was losing $9,000 before he even left the airport.

Mermelstein, a two-time World Poker Tour champion with more than $3.2 million in career tournament earnings, is currently in an ongoing legal battle with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office over allegations that $9,000 had been stolen from his backpack at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport last September.

“I was on my way to play the ACR Cage event in Costa Rica,” Mermelstein recalled. “I was at the Fort Lauderdale Airport, having just flown in from Philadelphia. While I was there I was really busy, on a phone call, and doing a million things. I boarded my flight, and that’s when I realized I had forgotten my bag.”

With the plane already in the air, there was nothing Mermelstein could do about his missing bag, and the several thousands of dollars inside. But despite the stressful ordeal, he remained positive.

“Alright, this was a bad situation, but I was still optimistic,” he explained. “It’s an airport, and people are generally good, so I was pretty confident that I’d get everything back. I get to Costa Rica and make the call. It takes them two days, but eventually they get back to me with the news that they found my bag. Great news. I finish the event, come back home, and when I get my bag back I obviously check inside. Everything was in there, except for the USD. There was the Canadian money (about $650), the poker chips (about $7,600 worth), a check I had from MGM, but not the cash.”

After Winning The 2015 WPT Borgata Winter Poker OpenWith no other choice, Mermelstein filed a police report for the missing money.

“Originally, I was working with a detective who was more concerned with proving me wrong than proving me right. He didn’t seem to be concerned about the surveillance video, it was more important to him to look at my story. I had to explain that I was a poker player and that it was very normal for me to be carrying large amounts of cash.”

Undeterred, Mermelstein pushed on, and eventually learned that his bag had been sitting for 16 hours at a cellphone charging station before it was found by Deputy Michael Spencer. Months later, he learned that Spencer failed to follow protocol with the unattended bag, and waited before reporting it.

Overhead surveillance footage shows Spencer looking inside the bag, before closing it and taking it into a public restroom. He returned about ten minutes later, only then turning on his body camera and calling over more police officers to report finding the backpack.

Spencer, according to the case supplemental report, claimed that he never saw any of the $9,000. The money was also supposedly not there when the BCAD’s Terrence Williams looked inside to do inventory.

The Florida Civil Rights Coalition filed a petition for release of the surveillance video in Broward County Circuit Court mid-June. The Broward County Sheriff’s office has so far refused to release the footage. An investigation by the Division of Internal Affairs determined that no misconduct issues were found during the incident.

“We want the tapes. We want the body camera footage, but they are keeping it to themselves. We need to see everything that happened, because clearly something did happen. Right now we are filing for public disclosure. They can play this game and try and keep it to themselves, but the bottom line is that we have the right to see what happened.”

Mermelstein is hoping that the footage gets released. He’d also like his money back, and for the deputy involved to be held accountable for his actions. But perhaps more importantly, he wants to stop situations like this from happening again.

“A lot of people in my situation would let this go,” Mermelstein explained. “With lawyer fees and everything else involved, I might not make my money back at all. It’s a huge headache, obviously. But it’s important to me that I fight it so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen to other people. We should be able to trust the police.”

In January of 2003, high-stakes poker pro David “viffer” Peat had about $15,000 in cash and a $50,000 Rolex watch taken from him by DEA agents at an airport in Ohio. Poker pro Gina Fiore also had to go to court for several years to get $100,000 that was taken from her luggage while at the airport in Atlanta.

In April of 2013, two poker players had $100,000 seized by Iowa police during a routine traffic stop. It took more than three years in court before the state agreed to a $60,000 settlement. Roughly $10,000 was confiscated by West Virginia police in September of last year when a New Jersey couple was pulled over with their casino winnings.