Helly Nahmad and his attorney, Ben Brafman
On my immediate left, my shoulder rubs a friendlier defendant – 51-year-old Alexander (“Sasha”) Zaverukha of Pennsylvania – wearing a charcoal sport coat and dark slacks. He has strong hands. He takes my card, after I suggest that maybe we can have a chat at some point.
To his left sits another Alexander, nicknamed “Marushka,” and surnamed Katchaloff. He’s 53, jolly, portly and wearing white designer glasses, and is accused of similar crimes as Sasha’s. “I’m not a lawyer, I’m a defendant,” he says, smiling, in answer to a question of mine. Next to him: Brooklyn’s Dmitry (“Blondie”) Druzhinsky. He’s 42 and has a surfer’s good looks. He faces 40 years, thanks in part to allegedly laundering millions from his sports gambling business through shell accounts in Cyprus.
Directly in front of me is Ronald Uy, who is looking at 22 years on a money laundering “structuring” charge. On Tuesday he was arrested and his promising career as a branch manager for JPMorgan Chase went up in flames. Several days ago, his LinkedIn page (no longer up) boasted that he’s a “highly accomplished banking professional with solid and progressive experience” who has been “repeatedly promoted into leadership roles.” The feds say he helped other defendants with tips on how to structure transactions in order to avoid reporting requirements.
Just 30 minutes into the proceeding, Uy was slumped over, staring at the yellow stars, suns and (what look like) free birds that are unjustly weaved throughout the courtroom’s blue carpet. The room was stuffy, but he never removed his long, wrinkled jacket.
The feds claim that Helly, the 34-year-old heir of the billionaire Nahmad art dealer family, is at the center of the case; in fact, they use his surname in the title of the two “enterprises” detailed in the 84-page indictment. His family is one of the richest and most powerful art-dealing dynasties in the world. Forbes estimated his father, David’s, fortune at $1.75 billion as of last month. Reached in London on Tuesday, David Nahmad said, “I know almost nothing” about the raid this morning on his son’s gallery. As for allegations that the raid is connected with Russian organized crime, he said, “I think it’s totally stupid.”