Billion-Dollar Illicit Sports-Betting Ring Busted by New York City Officials

More high comedy from the other side of the pond today, where officials in the New York City borough of Brooklyn have announced the arrests and indictments of four individuals who owned and operated what Brooklyn investigators describe as a “massive Internet-based sports gambling ring” that accepted at least $2 billion US (a bit over €1.8 billion) over the two years preceding the busting of the ring.

The four men, including one from New York and three from California, are alleged to have maintained a business office in Costa Rica, a turnkey operation of sorts that allowed them to process sports wagers through several different sites which were also housed and operated there.

ScreenHunter_15 Jun. 30 16.23Such busts happen several times a year across the United States, centered as often as not in the New York City metroplex, and triggered by American punters unrelenting willingness to gamble it up — legal or not — on their favorite teams and sports.  The ongoing “whack-a-mole” game between US legal officials and the illicit bookmaking operations is often a source of unintentional legal comedy, though only a couple of cases per year involve billions of dollars’ worth of bets.

Arrested in the current crackdown were Arthur Rossi, 66, of Manhattan (another New York City borough), and three greater Los Angeles-area Californians: Gordon Mitchnick, 58; Joseph Schneider, 39; and Claude Ferguson, 43.  The four face a combined 57 charges related to operation of the betting sites, including enterprise corruption, first-degree promoting gambling, second-degree possession of gambling records and fifth-degree conspiracy. Each faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the single largest charge, though these things are typical bargained down to a handful of years in prison along with hefty fines.

Mitchnick, the alleged leader of the operation, had his bond set at $2 million.  Schneider, who ran a smaller sports-betting operation that was consolidate with Mitchnick’s in 2015, had bail set at $500,000.  Rossi and Ferguson, who were alleged runners for the group, had their bail set much lower, at $50,000 each.

The entire scheme was being run through a handful of sites through the Costa Rica-based customer service office, which Mitchnick is accused of spending up to $200,000 per month to maintain.  Several online betting sites were cited as being operated by the group, including www.wagerabc.com, www.thewagerspot.com and www.hustler247.ag. All of the sites are password-protected and appear to still be in operation, and each site features a wide range of international sports-betting options.

However, as is typical with the hundreds of such underground (yet online) operations that service the US and Canadian markets, the majority of the betting action was done during the fall and winter on American football games.  According to a presser issued by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, the ring’s sites took in over $927 million in wagers on the 2015 NFL season alone, which likely generated tens of millions of dollars for the group.

Mitchnick, the operation’s leader, is also alleged to have laundered proceeds of the illicit operation by purchasing as many as 20 homes.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, offering the obligatory quote, said, “Illegal gambling is not a victimless crime – it preys on peoples’ vulnerabilities and directly leads to money laundering, loansharking and a host of other crimes. The principals of this huge gambling operation – possibly the biggest one ever to be dismantled by a local prosecutor’s office – allegedly moved millions of dollars around the United States and the world and used various tactics to launder these proceeds. My Office’s diligent and long-term investigation has now put an end to this criminal enterprise and we intend to see that these defendants face justice here in Brooklyn.”  The presser also indicated that additional arrests may be forthcoming.

Regarding Mitchnick, the Brooklyn DA statement also asserted that “Mitchnick bragged about being one of the first bookmakers to use the ‘pay per head’ system of online-based gambling that largely replaced payments by percentage of profits and also indicated that he was running an illegal operation.”

Several local, state and federal agencies assisted the Brooklyn DA’s office in their investigation, involving agencies in New York, New Jersey, California and Nevada, and even the US Postal Service and the US Department of Homeland Security.