Sometimes poker stories are difficult in unexpected ways. One of the most recent examples of this unfortunate truism was the video interview Veronica Brill conducted a week ago with Mike Postle’s former wife, Sabina Johnson.
Brill interviewed Johnson way back on Mother’s Day in early May, and it took Brill another four weeks to publish it, despite what appeared to be fairly limited editing. That’s an indicator of a tough interview, even as it comes amid the final stages of Brill’s legal win and pending financial judgment against Brill in the frivolous $330 million defamation lawsuit brought by alleged poker cheat Postle against Brill and 11 other individual and corporate defendants.
If you remember, Brill was the original whistleblower regarding Postle’s abnormally high win rates in dozens of livestreamed “Stones Live!” cash games recorded at the Stones Gambling Hall in Sacramento. Therefore, once the legal case against Postle in California was dismissed — on a technicality involving California’s gambling laws, and with no actual trial determining whether Postle cheated or not — it was going to be interesting to see what happened next.
We all learned the answer to that last October, when Postle got the hairbrained idea to file that suit. And once he decided to file, it was mandatory that he named Brill as one of the defendants, even though she was relatively poor, unlike most of the others, which ranged from high-profile and wealthy pros to such deep-pocketed entities as ESPN and PokerNews.
We all saw how well that turned out for Postle, who attempted to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit himself in early April. Too bad for Postle that California law allows the defendants in frivolous lawsuits to seek compensation for their legal expenses. Todd Witteles won a $27,000 judgment against Postle last month, while Brill’s similar claim may be resolved as soon as the end of this coming week.
Yet amid all the farce, all the backstory, there’s been one undeniable truth: Veronica Brill and Mike Postle have become bitter enemies, and it’s gotten deeply personal.
Thus arrived Brill’s hour-long video interview with Johnson, Postle’s ex. Who contacted who to set up the video isn’t crystal clear. It was almost certainly Brill who initiated the contact, but at some point the potential interview became a game of sorts between Brill and Postle. Late in the interview, Johnson revealed that at first, Postle encouraged her to stay in contact with Brill, and to learn whatever she could about Brill’s knowledge — and perhaps her legal plans — and report that back to Postle.
At some point, though, Johnson turned the tables and decided to do the interview and to shine a public light on all sorts of bad behavior by Postle over the years the two were together. Brill gave Johnson the opportunity to respond on her terms, about whatever she chose, and the result was about what one would expect — an hour’s worth of a deeply embittered former wife partaking in some character assassination.
To be fair, if a fifth of what Johnson told Brill is true, then Postle deserves it all the poker-world scorn and much more besides. Watching it all was difficult, and though the interview is linked at the bottom, it’s not for everyone. Yet the interview was important and newsworthy in its own way, because even though it’s got precious little to offer in terms of the poker-cheating allegations against Postle, it has a lot to say about Postle’s character, and none of it is good.
A mostly credible appearance
Yet there are some questions that have to be asked about Johnson’s credibility as well. Johnson appeared, well, schnozzled pretty thorougly as the interview began. She might not have been drunk, but she certainly appeared drunk, slurring her words heavily at the start but, slowly, steadily improving as the hour-long interview wore on. Johnson is far from the first person in a spot such as this to fortify herself with a few shots of liquid courage (if indeed that’s what occurred), but it made it a more difficult interview for Brill to conduct.
And Johnson’s inability at the start to go beyond the simplest responses to basic questions, mixed with rants about Postle, prompted Brill to try some leading questions. In that, Brill erred. Johnson had mentioned that in addition to the “Stones Live” allegations, Postle had allegedly been investigated for cheating online at PokerStars. Brill pounced on that and asked Johnson who else might have been involved, since a lot of online cheating in the past has been done by teams of multiple players.
Johnson, having opened up about the online accusations against her former husband, stumbled for a moment, then dropped the name of a former big-time PokerStars pro. And on that single point, while I believed all of her first-person stories involving Postle himself, I don’t believe this well-known pro was involved in any such cheating at all.
First, this exchange occurred fairly early in the interview, when Johnson appeared to be at her most schnockered. Second, she had no specific details, other than that the player she named was a casual friend of Postle himself. Having mentioned this pro by name, Johnson then tried to walk it back when Brill pressed the issue.
The specificity devil is in the details
There’s a specificity filter one has to apply when deciding when an interviewee’s stories are true or not. The more the story involves minor, unusual, specific details, the more likely the story itself is true. For example, Johnson detailed several episodes involving Postle that offered testimony to his lousy character. Those ranged from Postle calling himself the “Fleecer” and bragging to Johnson about his ability to separate his marks from their money, to several scams unrelated to gambling at all that Postle had pulled off in the past.
The one of these that stuck out to me the most was a tale of how Postle cracked one of his dental veneers (a veneer is a ceramic tooth covering) and then decided to scam Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort (GSR) into the needed dental repair. Johnson told how Postle took a tiny scrap of meat from their home and left it out on a kitchen counter to dry and harden for several days. He then took it and his already-cracked veneer to a restaurant at GSR. He ordered a salad, and after it arrived, inserted the dried bit of meat. He then called over the waitperson, produced the dried meat bit and his broken veneer, and claimed that he’d broken his tooth on the bit that was unexpectedly in his salad.
It ranks right up there with an intentional slip-and-fall as a punk-ass scam, and I believed Johnson utterly when she told about this and several other Postle cons. The tale had the details, the specificity, that truly-told tales have.
The Evert Caldwell connection
I also believed Johnson’s stories when it came to Postle’s fast-and-thick friend, Evert Caldwell, the Florida-based publisher of RounderLife, who has attempted, oh so poorly, to boost Postle’s claims of innocence over the past couple of years.
Sabina Johnson had plenty to say about Evert Caldwell, starting with the fact that she met Postle through Caldwell, when she modeled for Caldwell’s mediocre poker magazine. She also detailed that Postle helped Caldwell when Caldwell was in an ownership battle for the magazine several years prior, but perhaps the biggest reveal of the entire interview was when she stated that Caldwell was the link between Postle and California documentary producer David Broome.
Last September, when Postle was dismissed as a defendant from the “Stones Live!” cheating case, Broome announced his plans for a major documentary on the Postle saga, supposedly one that would air both sides of the cheating allegations.
Given all that’s transpired since, including Postle being unable to find a second attorney — his first one quit on him — willing to invest a few hundred hours in the chance of winning a nice slice of a $330 million defamation lawsuit, it’s a safe bet we’ll never hear about the Postle documentary again.
Marital strife dominated interview’s later stages
Ah, but, overall, the Sabina Johnson interview was still so tough to watch, despite the rare newsworthy nuggets that emerged. The interview’s emergence appeared to be Johnson fighting back at several years of psychological manipulation and bullying by Postle. It also involved an ongoing custody battle between Postle and Johnson that has seemingly also gone on for years.
A messy marital split really shouldn’t be a part of a poker story. However, Brill gave Johnson carte blanche to talk about whatever she wanted, and especially in the second half of the video interview, that’s what Johnson wanted to talk about.
Johnson even forwarded some text messages that Postle sent to her in the days just before Brill published the interview, threatening Johnson and declaring that she was the one hurting their daughter by doing the interview with Brill. It’s not my place to delve too deeply into dime-store psychiatric analyses, but I’ve encountered that sort of manipulation myself. It makes my blood boil to see one person use a child as a weapon against a former spouse, but the cel-phone texts are right there at the end of the Johnson interview.
It’s part of why it’s taken me a week just to figure out how, what and why to write about this interview in the way I have. It’s dark and it’s bothersome and it illustrates again that despite how great our game of poker really is, there’ll always be some garbage swimming around in the deepest, darkest pools.
That’s where I’m at after watching it. Maybe it won’t affect you the same way. Maybe you’ll have an entirely different take. But given how dark the interview turned out to be, you’ve been warned. Watch at your own peril or disgust or sadness, or whatever other adjective you might think applies.