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Online Poker Drove Student to Rob Bank, Lawyer Says

The Morning Call

Somewhere in a hectic schedule that included being president of his Lehigh University sophomore class, playing second-chair cello in the university orchestra and working at the chaplain’s office, Greg Hogan developed a secret habit.

For 14 months the polite, energetic finance and accounting double major from an affluent Ohio suburb used online poker to blow off steam.

But the hobby quickly became an addiction that led Hogan to lose about $5,000.

It was that addiction that led him last week into a Wachovia bank in Allentown, where he handed a teller a note and calmly walked out with $2,871 that wasn’t his, says his lawyer, John J. Waldron.

Allentown police said Hogan confessed to the robbery.

Now the 19-year-old son of a Baptist minister faces up to 20 years in prison on bank robbery charges, and his lawyer says the nationwide poker craze is partly to blame.

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“This is one of the nicest kids I’ve ever met, but his gambling addiction led him to make a terrible, terrible mistake,” Waldron said. “There’s so much good in this kid. It easily outweighs this one bad mistake.”

District Judge Carl L. Balliet will get a chance to consider that Jan. 31, when Hogan has a preliminary hearing on felony charges of robbery, theft and receiving stolen property.

According to Allentown police, Hogan went into the bank Friday, handed the teller a note saying he had a gun and walked out with the money. He hopped into a waiting sport utility vehicle and rode away with two members of his fraternity.

The two men in the vehicle with Hogan said he told them he was cashing a check, and both told police they knew nothing of Hogan’s plans. Neither has been charged and both declined to comment Tuesday, as did the bank teller.

A witness wrote down the SUV’s plate number and police arrested Hogan at his fraternity house.

The arrest shocked Hogan’s classmates.

“There are some students here that you just wouldn’t be surprised to see arrested,” said Pat Thornton, one of Hogan’s friends. “But Greg wasn’t one of them. Greg’s just a friendly, energetic guy. You’d have trouble finding anyone who didn’t like him.”

At Lehigh, students liked him enough to elect him sophomore class president. He showed enough skill on the cello to be named second chair and he worked part time in the university chaplain’s office, Waldron said.

Hogan is a graduate of a private high school in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. His father, Gregory Sr., is a minister at the First Baptist Church of Barberton, Ohio, and his mother, Karen, holds a doctorate in nursing.

Hogan’s parents and grandparents met with Waldron for 90 minutes Sunday and talked about the addiction Hogan had been keeping a secret.

Waldron said he had hired a forensic psychologist to evaluate Hogan.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Waldron said. “Why would such a good kid with so much promise do this? We know he had a gambling addiction, but why didn’t he seek other options? That has everyone scratching their heads.”

William N. Thompson, professor of public policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, isn’t among them. Thompson said the poker craze had arrived and Hogan was another of its victims.

What used to be played by middle-age men in smoky backrooms is being played by college and high school students.

If players can’t find a live game, online poker is a mouse click away, and they need only a computer and a credit card whose credit limit hasn’t been maxed out.

“It’s everywhere and now it’s even on the Internet, where there is almost no controls,” Thompson said. “You can expect it to get worse, and you can expect to see more and more college students fall into it.”


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