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Colourful characters emerge in New York poker crackdown

The son of one of the wealthiest families in the art world and a notorious Hollywood poker princess were among the 34 people to appear in court in New York over charges stemming from an illegal high-stakes poker ring that was frequented by sports stars, celebrities and Wall Street executives.

Prosecutors allege that all had roles in a sprawling scheme by a Russian organized crime enterprise which laundered at least $100 million in illegal gambling proceeds through hundreds of bank accounts and shell companies in Cyprus and the United States.

Every one of the accused arraigned in a Manhattan court pleaded not guilty to the charges, including Hillel “Helly” Nahmad and Molly Bloom.

Nahmad’s arrest has become the talk of the art world according to sources such as The Financial Times. The 34-year-old is one of the wealthiest families in the art world and it was his Helly Nahmad Gallery in Manhattan which is thought to be at the centre of the poker ring.

Prosecutors say he is part of the ‘Nahmad-Trincher Organisation’, which is alleged to be “a nationwide criminal enterprise” running high-stakes illegal gambling businesses. Nahmad is alleged to have financed the organisation.

Bloom, who also pleaded not guilty, is said to have organised high-stakes poker games for A-list celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Alex Rodriguez, Tobey Maguire and Matt Damon. She is said to be facing bookmaking charges.

The FBI made the arrests, which spanned between, Los Angeles, Miami and New York, last week, but have not named any of the high-profile players who played in the games. However, it is suspected pro’s such as Bill Edler, Peter Feldman, Abe Mosseri, Joe Mancuso, John Hanson and Eddie Ting, are those who are involved.

But the net could go wider than that. Nahmad, for example, runs in a dizzying social circle of A-list friends, which include supermodel Gisele Bundchen and her football quarterback husband Tom Brady, according to the New York Post. Like Bloom, he is also friends with DiCaprio, who, according to the Washington Post, played in games run by Bloom in Los Angeles.

Apart from the more recognizable names, a 32-year-old JPMorgan Chase branch manager in New York was arrested and charged with helping one of the other defendant’s structure transactions in order to avoid bank reporting requirements, the 84-page indictment states.

Infamous Russian crime boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, nicknamed ‘the Little Taiwanese’, has also been indicted in the case, although he remains in hiding in Russia.

Tokhtakhounov was indicted previously for rigging the figure skating competition at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and is thought to be among the highest ranking members of Russian organized crime.

A judge set a trial date for the summer of 2014.

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