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Canadian businessman indicted in casino debt case

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - A Canadian real-estate businessman and gambling high-roller is sought in Nevada on charges that he failed to repay $12.9 million in debts to two Las Vegas-area casinos more than five years ago, authorities said Thursday.

Semion Kronenfeld, 43, was named in an arrest warrant issued after a grand jury charged him in a 12-count indictment with felony theft, bad cheques and obtaining money under false pretenses.

The case is among the largest casino debt cases to reach court in Nevada. If he's convicted, Kronenfeld could face decades in state prison.

Kronenfeld's lawyer in Las Vegas, Craig Mueller, didn't immediately respond Thursday to messages seeking comment.

Prosecutor Jake Merback, head of the Clark County district attorney's office bad cheque unit, said it wasn't clear where Kronenfeld was.

Authorities said after Kronenfeld's case became public in 2009 that he listed his occupation on casino credit records as the owner of an investment real-estate company based in Ontario, and that he had an Israeli passport. He has also spelled his last name Cronenfeld.

The indictment handed up Wednesday accuses him of failing to repay $7.9 million in casino IOUs written in October 2008 at The Venetian resort on the Las Vegas Strip and $5 million less than two weeks later at the Green Valley Ranch resort in Henderson.

Nevada treats written casino IOUs, known as markers, like fraudulent bad cheques. State law lets prosecutors collect a 10 per cent processing and prosecution fee with any settlement. Most cases are resolved before charges are filed.

The case against Kronenfeld is one of the largest to reach court since the Nevada Legislature added "credit extended by any licensed gaming establishment" to the state bad cheque law in 1995.

A challenge of the constitutionality of the law, which serves as a model for other U.S. states with casino businesses, is pending before the Nevada Supreme Court. It was brought by a California ice cream mogul who was convicted of failing to pay $384,000 in casino IOUs in 2008.

Harel Zahavi argues that casino markers are short-term business loans, not personal cheques, because casinos routinely hold them for several months before redeeming them.

In 2009, Terrance (Terry) Watanabe, the wealthy former owner of the Omaha, Nebraska-based Oriental Trading Co., was indicted on allegations he failed to pay $14.75 million in casino debts. He countersued Harrah's Entertainment Inc. before both sides reached a confidential settlement in July 2010.

Other large casino bad check cases include a $2.5 million dispute between "Girls Gone Wild" founder Joe Francis and casinos owned by Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn, and the conviction in 2011 of former NBA All-Star Antoine Walker.

The Francis-Wynn case is pending before the Nevada Supreme Court.

Walker pleaded guilty before trial, was sentenced to five years' probation and ordered to pay about $770,000 in restitution.

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