If you know you’re going to go to prison for a significant stretch after attempting to — and partly succeeding — in defrauding Medicare out of a nine-digit sum for services never requested by physicians or their patients, what’s a gambling person with plenty of money but not much “free” time supposed to do? If you’re Arkansas’s Billy Joe “Bildo” Taylor, it appears that playing some nosebleed poker was the answer.
Taylor, of Lavaca, Arkansas, faces sentencing in early February after reaching a plea deal with federal authorities in late 2022 over his long-running laboratory-testing scheme. Taylor, along with others, owned and operated medical labs in several states that made a very profitable enterprise for a few years by billing Medicare for thousands and thousands of tests.
According to a Department of Justice press statement, the 43-year-old Taylor owned or controlled medical labs in several states, including North Carolina, Oklahoma, and California, in addition to his home state of Arkansas. At his bidding, he and his employees submitted up to $130 million worth of fraudulent tests to Medicare from late 2017 to early 2021, including tens of millions of dollars of unordered COVID-19 tests from 2020 onward.
Taylor’s firms received $38 million in funds from the Medicare program before the feds figured out what was up. Taylor himself faces up to 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced in July after reaching a plea deal with the feds in November. It’s probably a wise choice; he could have faced 160 years in prison if convicted and sentenced to the maximum on all counts.
Playin’ the pokers with stolen money
Given the discrepancy between the $38 million Taylor’s companies received and the much larger $92 million or so they didn’t, it’s likely that Taylor knew the jig was up long before his arrest in 2021. Earlier in 2021, though, “Bildo” Taylor was briefly an emerging star on the Southern poker scene.
In 2021, in fact, Taylor became known as a high-flying poker whale with a penchant for manic-aggressive play, which is just the sort of behavior you might resort to if you already knew that the good times weren’t going to last. Here’s the YouTube video of the livestreamed cash game from Texas Card House Dallas where Taylor, already establishing himself as one of the stars of the streamed TCH games, took down a then-record $147,000 pot on the stream:
Taylor was initially freed on a $100,000 bond, but had that bail revoked after he engaged in several forms of pre-trial misbehavior, including what were described as “unauthorized” stays at an out-of-state casino. Taylor is known to have taken his aggro high-stakes game on the road to occasional tourneys as well, and he made a cameo appearance in the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open’s blog after he showed up for that Florida series’ $50,000 high-roller tourney, and as was his custom, found his way into a big, coverage-worthy hand.
It doesn’t appear as if that WPT-branded series was the specific out-of-state visit that caused Taylor’s bond revocation, as the jailbird-in-waiting was making the most, casino- and poker-wise, of his remaining free time.
Notable addition to poker’s seedy underbelly
Bildo Taylor is far from the first person to take ill-gotten funds and blast them away at the poker tables. The WPT had one of those inglorious incidents occur under its flag not that long ago. In early 2018, Dennis Blieden won the L.A. Poker Classic main event for a million-dollar score, but it turned out he was already several million dollars in debt from having stolen investment funds from his employer, which he effectively put out of business.
And of course tales abound of drug dealers and other criminals using those funds to fund a poker and gambling lifestyle. Among the most notorious was Texas drug kingpin Jimmy Chagra, who wagered and lost millions in the original Las Vegas “Big Game” action that featured Doyle Brunson, Jack Straus, Amarillo Slim, Puggy Pearson, Johnny Moss, and many others.