Hillel (Helly) Nahmad could have potentially been locked away for 92 years for charges relating to being a key organizer of illegal high stakes poker games in New York.
Among the charges he could have been found guilty of were racketeering, money laundering and fraud, which can carry severe penalties in the US. However, the 35-year-old art gallery owner is now likely to avoid a lengthy prison sentence as part of a plea agreement that was made regarding the case.
As part of the deal with prosecutors, Nahmad, whose family is reported to be worth around US$3 billion, pleaded guilty only to operating an illegal gambling business. The other more serious charges have been dismissed as a result of Nahmad’s guilty plea and he is likely to now serve between 12 and 18 months in prison. Nahmad could also lose $6.4 million in assets, including a $300,000 painting, as a result of the plea agreement.
In Manhattan Federal Court on Tuesday, Nahmad said that he had never intended for the high stakes games to become a multi-million dollar ring and that it was never his main focus.
“It started as a hobby. Unfortunately, it became a business. But it was never my main business,” he told the court. “This all started as a group of friends betting on sports events, but I recognize that I crossed the line, and I apologize to the court and my family.”
Nahmad’s statement was dismissed by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who believed Nahmad knew all along that the games were linked to high profile Russian organized crime figures.
The New York illegal high stakes ring gained headlines when it was uncovered back in April. A total of 34 people, including Nahmad, have been charged in relation to the ring, with a number of them having already pleaded guilty to various crimes.
WSOP gold bracelet winners Bill Edler and Abe Mosseri, and prominent professional poker player Peter Feldman, have also been charged for being part of the poker ring. The three men, who have a total of 17 WSOP in-the-money finishes between them, also face potentially long prison sentences for charges relating to their involvement in the New York poker games.
News of the ring came as a shock to many in the poker world and was unwelcome considering that online poker was being regulated in the US for the first time. Fortunately though, this case has not hijacked the good progress that is being made with poker in the US and the game continues to go from strength to strength.