Saturday, October 31, 2020

New York attorney scammed lottery winners out of $80 million

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A New York attorney who branded himself the “Lottery Lawyer” has been charged with swindling millions of dollars from jackpot winners in a conspiracy that federal prosecutors say involved a member of the Genovese crime family.

An indictment unsealed Tuesday charges the attorney, Jason “Jay” Kurland, with conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors say Kurland’s clients lost more than $80 million in the scheme.

One of the victims won the $1.5 billion Mega Millions lottery, authorities said, while another had hauled in a $245 million Powerball jackpot.

Kurland’s defense attorney declined to comment on the indictment.

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Kurland’s law firm, Rivkin Radler, said it had been “taken by complete surprise” by the charges and is cooperating with the federal investigation. The firm issued a statement saying it was “taking immediate steps to remove Mr. Kurland as a partner.”

Prosecutors said Kurland encouraged his clients to make large investments in entities run by Christopher Chierchio, described in court papers as a soldier in the Genovese crime family, former securities broker Frank Smookler and a fourth co-conspirator named Frankie Russo.

Chierchio’s defense attorney, Gerald J. McMahon, said his client was “not guilty of these fraudulent charges.” He also disputed Chierchio was involved in organized crime. “If he were not Italian, there would be no accusation of this nature,” he told The Associated Press.

Prosecutors said Kurland, who also practices real estate law, had been entrusted to safeguard the lottery winnings, charging clients upfront fees between $75,000 and $200,000.

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But he also received kickbacks, authorities said, for encouraging the jackpot winners to invest in dubious entities controlled by Chierchio, Smookler and Russo, who are accused of siphoning millions from those investments.

The businessmen “profited handsomely,” prosecutors wrote in court filings, “fueling lavish lifestyles that included flying private jets, taking exotic vacations, buying boats, paying country club dues and even ‘wrapping’ luxury cars.”

Messages were sent to attorneys for Smookler and Russo seeking comment.

The businessmen “repeatedly discussed how to cover their tracks and impede any investigation into their conduct,” prosecutors wrote, citing one wiretapped call in which Smookler and Russo discussed destroying hard drives.

“When they subpoena us, they’re going to ask for that,” Smookler said, according to court records.

“Well, you would have to replace them because you can’t make it look obvious,” Russo replied, according to prosecutors.

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