On Tuesday April 16, nearly three dozen people were charged in what investigators said was a Russian organized crime operation that included illegal, high-stakes poker games for the rich and famous and threats of violence to make sure customers paid their debts. FBI tapes reveal more information about the crackdown on illegal high stakes gambling ring in New York.
According to official court papers, FBI had an active surveillance on what federal authorities have described as two related multimillion-dollar money-laundering and gambling rings. According to the assistant United States attorney Harris Fischman, who is prosecuting the case, nine cellphone were tapped and as many as 25,000 calls were recorded by investigators. Calls were mostly in English but a few in Russian. Investigators also searches emails, houses and businesses, seizing computers and gathering bank records from 300 different bank accounts, producing thousands of pages of evidence.
Surveillance shows that illegal high stakes poker games were run out-of-sight settings like a suite at the Plaza Hotel or an apartment in skyscraper on Fifth Avenue. Top quality food and drinks were always available, as well as masseuses to help relieve the tension. With one pink chip worth $25,000, sometimes there was as much as $2 million on the table to be lost or won. Games were frequented by celebrities like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire.
At one game, in an apartment Trump tower on Fifth Avenue, as the poker game continued, the Russian organizers suspected that a new player did fit in, although he had arrived with a regular. Two of them were kindly asked to leave. Apparently the Russians had a good hunch: The new player was an undercover F.B.I. agent.
Meanwhile the same Russian organizes were also busy with taking enormous bets on both college and professional sports. One man was heard betting 300.000$ on Super Bowl last year, and losing. Another punter placed a $1 million wager on another sporting event.
Many details of the poker games and the wagers were found in hundreds of conversations and text messages secretly captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, exposing the shadowy and illegal world of high-stakes gambling in New York City. All the information led investigators come to the conclusion that there are two related multimillion-dollar money-laundering and gambling rings.
One of these rings were run by a very powerful art dealer family in New York who owns one of the largest collections of Impressionist and Modernist works in the world. This family is based in New York and Los Angeles and mostly served hedge fund managers, real estate magnates, A-list celebrities and famous athletes.
34 year old son of this New York family of enormous power in art world Hillel Nahmad, or Helly as called by his friends, was released on bail on 16 of April. He is charged with racketeering, gambling and money laundering.
The other illegal gambling ring mostly served to wealthy all over the world and was led by a Russian organized crime figure.
The course of the investigation is detailed in hundreds of pages of wiretap and search-warrant affidavits which contain several suspicious conversations and transactions. In one conversation, Helly a woman to wire $150,000 to the bank account of his father, who is not charged, and advises her to lie about the reason of the wire: “You just be like, Oh yeah, I bought a, you know, Picasso drawing or something.” He says to the woman. There are also pages of recordings of Mr. Nahmad taking bets over his cellphone.
On the Russian side of the gambling ring, a father Vadim Trincher, and his two sons, Illya and Eugene seem to have the leading role. One time Eugene picked up approximately $500,000 in cash from someone associated with an online gambling Web site, and then brought it home, saying to his dad: “Dad, give it to Mom for a couple of days so she’ll give it to somebody else.”
One other time, a bettor called “Tabor” won $600,000 from the illegal gambling ring betting on the New York Giants won the Super Bowl in 2012. However moving such an amount of money without drawing attention from authorities was a problem for Nahmad-Trincher organization. According to the records, Helly Nahmad received the wire information from “Tabor” and sent it to Illya Trincher on March 1 and the wire went through as planned. In April, Tabor felt that the money can be traced and planned to send all the money back.
Tapes also revealed the ugly side of this illegal gambling operation, involving another bettor called “NYU Dave”. According to the Prosecutors, NYU Dave lost $1.2 million and fell into debt, he eventually tried to pay his debt off by signing over %10 of his fashion company to to Mr. Trincher. Another unfortunate gambler, Peter Skyllas, eventually had to sign his company Titan Plumbing over to the gambling organization to save himself from his debt which was over $2 million. This incident apparently cheered Illya Trincher up, he joked that they had just gotten “some free plumbing work.”
Prosecutors believe that that one of the highest members of Russian mafia, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, who was once accused of fixing 2002 Winter Olympics events, is also involved. However Mr Tokhtakhounov is still at large.