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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Jewish Billionaire Helly Nahmad In $100 Mil Russian Mob Gambling Case

                                  Helly Nahmad and his attorney, Ben Brafman
When you’re sitting at an arraignment– squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder with alleged Russian mafia members and associates in a 34-defendant gambling case — it’s hard not to fantasize how fun it would be to sit instead at a table playing poker with them.

It took me a half hour to realize that I wasn’t in the press section at federal criminal court in Manhattan yesterday afternoon. There were three rows in the front, stuffed with 21 of the defendants, on benches meant to comfortably hold 15. Plus me. But by then it was too late to move, as there wasn’t a free seat anywhere in the chaotic courtroom, packed with upwards of 100 people, many standing, including some of the country’s top criminal defense lawyers.

To my right sits a 45-year-old, gentle-faced bald man in casual green slacks, holding a piece of paper and a pen. I asked if he was a reporter and, clearly in no mood to talk, he curtly waved me off. In fact, he seemed utterly miserable, and with good reason. When he rose to plead not guilty, I learned that he was Donald McCalmont, who just three days earlier had placed on its fugitives page.

In luckier days, Don once took 7th place in an Omaha Hi-Lo tournament at the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut, where the prize pool was 40 grand. Today he faces a maximum of 40 years in prison for racketeering and money laundering.

Prosecutors say that McCalmont, and dozens more, played major roles in a global gambling racket – it stretched from the U.S to Russia, Cyprus and Ukraine — that catered to billionaires, Russian oligarchs, Hollywood stars, Wall Street bankers, and pro athletes. On Tuesday, agents made busts at numerous locations in New York, Detroit, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, before declaring they had nailed a $100+ million money-laundering case operated by Russian organized crime.

While readers may find it hard to get steamed up by a bunch of guys getting together to play an unlicensed hand of poker and wager on sports, this case may prove different. If the prosecutors are right, a man at the pinnacle — the feds say he took a $10 million rake just in a one-month period from the operation — was none other than fugitive Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov (nicknamed “Taiwanchik,” or Little Taiwanese.) And that could mean bad news for many defendants, whether they knew this fact or not.

Taiwanchik gained his notoriety in 2002, when he was accused of bribing ice skating judges in the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.  The feds call him a “major figure in international Eurasian Organized Crime” who has been involved in “drug distribution, illegal arms sales and trafficking in stolen vehicles.” In the current gambling case, he’s accused of using his status as a thief-in-law (or vory v zakone) — a select group of the highest-level criminals in Russia — to resolve disputes with gambling clients with threats of violence.

Taiwanchik, who faces a max of 90 years in the current case, has often been linked to Semion (“The Brainy Don”) Mogilevich, who the FBI once called the “boss of bosses” of most Russian mob syndicates — and “the most dangerous mobster in the world.” Both men are believed to be living today in Russia.

But the man next to me, McCalmont, was way down that chain, according to prosecutors. The feds say they can prove, among other things, that McCalmont assisted other defendants in collecting a $2 million betting debt that a client owed, by buying 50% of the client’s plumbing company. The gambling establishment then allegedly used bank accounts and companies such as that plumbing outfit to launder tens of millions of dollars of illegal betting proceeds.

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.

“In a couple of years,” he says with a broad smile.



Sasha faces ten years, the minimum of the maximums in this case. He’s charged with operating a bookkeeping business, as well as an unlawful Internet gaming operation that extended credit to customers.

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 biggest name in a defendant’s seat was Hillel (Helly) Nahmad, in the first row, maybe ten feet away, wearing a white shirt under a slick black suit. On Tuesday morning, I was tipped off to an FBI-IRS-NYPD raid that was underway at his art gallery at Manhattan’s luxurious Carlyle Hotel. I had the scene to myself for an hour, a reporter’s version of holding aces, until a New York Times photographer appeared. He stayed long enough to get the ‘money shot’ — agents hauling Nahmad’s computers from the gallery.
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.”

Intriguingly, the indictment states that the illegal enterprise “was financed by a number of different individuals and entities, including… Nahmad’s father.” It states that Helly made two separate wire transfers, totaling $1.35 million, from his father’s bank account in Switzerland to bank accounts in the U.S. to help finance the gambling scam. Reached by Forbes again yesterday on that specific point, David said that he would ask one of his attorneys, Richard Golub, to talk with me. Hopefully he will, but he probably won’t.    

A source very close to the Nahmad family tells Forbes that Helly lives in the ritzy yet overpriced Trump Tower, enjoys a chauffer-driven car, dates supermodels, spends a lot of time in Monte Carlo, loves to gamble, and is close friends with actor Leo DiCaprio.

In a profile of the family in 2007 titled “The Art of the Deal,” Forbes senior editor Susan Adams detailed how the Nahmads are among the world’s most influential megadealers of modern and impressionist art. They boast an arsenal of well-known names, from Matisse and Monet to Renoir and Rothko. While they conduct most of their buying and selling through the Sotheby’s and Christie’s auction houses, a good deal of art is also sold though Helly’s New York gallery, as well as the gallery of a cousin in London.  

The Nahmads descend from a prosperous banker from Aleppo, Syria. Today, their art inventory takes up 15,000 square feet of a duty-free building next to Geneva’s international airport. Three sources in a position to know told Forbes’ Adams that the warehouse in 2007 contained between 4,500 and 5,000 works of art, worth between $3-4 billion at the time.

In the courtroom, after looking at my business card, Helly shot me a sharp eye — strands of his fashionable hair sweeping across his face. He faces a maximum of 92 years. That’s 92 years! One of the most noticeable things is how young and trendy he and so many of his arrested pals are — quite a few of them sitting in his row or just behind him, or linked together with artsy photos on Facebook. All of them are clearly pals, bobbing their heads around to see who else is here.

They looked confused, but not very scared.

To Helly’s right sits Jonathan Hirsch, age 30, wearing his hair below his shoulders and what looks to be a classy thigh-length thin gray pea coat. He comes across more like a high school poet or rock star than a kid facing up to 32 years behind bars. In fact, he’s a math whiz. Near Hirsch is Moshe Oratz, wearing a pinstripe suit, a pleasant grin, and a black yarmulke atop his collar-length curly hair. He’s 37, looks much younger, and faces 30 years.

To Helly’s left is a 26-year-old New Yorker named Eugene Trincher, who wears a movie-star face, while facing 30. His Beverly Hills-based brother, Illya, seated behind him, is a year older, and is accused of being such a key player in the ring that he’s staring at a maximum of 97 years. 97 years!

The Trincher family is one of the case’s biggest mysteries, as father Vadim — a fairly well-known professional poker player — is alleged to have laundered tens of millions of dollars from Russia and the Ukraine through Cyprus and into the U.S. The feds call his arm the “Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization.”
The show began at about 1:30pm yesterday, a half-hour late, when a court clerk proclaimed, “I apologize if I say any of these names incorrectly.”

A gray-haired man in dark sunglasses leaned against a wall. One defendant was displaying his turquoise sneakers. A stunning Russian blonde in giant pumps and a white scarf wrapped around her neck was said to be the mother of a major defendant. One woman wore a blindingly-bright red dress, another fur.

But the clear winner of the glamour pageant, seated three rows behind me, was Colorado’s Molly Bloom, age 34. The lightly-tanned, gum-snapping Bloom (nicknamed the “Poker Princess”) wore her brown hair in an innocent ponytail, and a (presumably real) pearl necklace over a way-tight tan sweater. Many lawyers couldn’t take their eyes off her. “Her photos don’t do her justice,” said one local newspaper reporter.

Molly faces up to ten years for operating an illegal gambling business.

For years she has organized high-stakes poker salons in lavish homes and hotels on both coasts of the U.S. Molly’s alleged staple of players has included celebs DiCaprio, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and athletes Alex Rodriguez and Pete Sampras. Whether any of these stars indulged in games sponsored by today’s busted-up global enterprise remains to be seen. Perhaps those answers will have to wait until 2014, when a Harper-Collins memoir by Bloom is scheduled to be released.

Lead prosecutor Harris Fischman explained to the court how “bookies all over the world” were engaged in a sophisticated money-laundering scheme, with threats of violence used to enforce gambling debts. He announced he “wouldn’t be surprised” if there were 25,000 telephone intercepts  that were recorded and that will be used against the defendants, as well as 300 bank accounts involved in the scam, with more expected from cooperating countries. The FBI is “imaging” the many computers seized in the raids, he said, and expects to have them back to the defendants in two weeks.

One defendant who rose from his seat had a wire dangling from an ear, as he tried to understand what a Russian translator was saying through it. He was short, stocky, had a giant bald spot, and looked a lot like Danny DeVito in the film “Other People’s Money.” He seemed unable to plead guilty or innocent, leading rows of defendants to laugh. “It’s not funny,” said Sasha next to me, but of course it was. And he laughed, too.

I looked around unsuccessfully for a 29-year-old defendant from Staten Island named Joseph (“Joe the Hammer”) Mancuso, just to see what someone with that nickname looks like. But at least I got to see his powerhouse attorney, Ronald Fischetti, who has represented the likes of bad girl Courtney Love, bad boy Dana Giaccheto (money manager to the stars), the late Elaine Kaufman (of the famed Elaine’s bar) and Howard Johnson (baseball’s Mets).

Helly is represented by Benjamin Brafman, who won the acquittal of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs in his 1999 illegal weapons and bribery charges. In 2011, he got sexual-assault charges dropped against IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn. “We do not believe that Mr. Nahmad knowingly violated the law and are confident that he will be exonerated,” he tells Forbes. A second super-lawyer, Paul Shechtman, is also on Helly’s team.

The young Illya Trincher is represented by Las Vegas-based attorney David Chesnoff, whose clients have included DiCaprio, Lindsay Lohan, Martha Stewart, Britney Spears, Mike Tyson — plus Phil Ivey, arguably the best poker player in the world.

At one point, Chesnoff rose to tell the court that his client was arrested in Los Angeles, and then flew with him to the arraignment with just one form of identification: a passport card. Prosecutors wanted him to surrender it, but Chesnoff requested they hold off until after the weekend so that Illya could get an alternative form of ID – a New York driver’s license. “We don’t think we want him moving around,” countered the prosecutor. The judge agreed, and ordered Chesnoff to chaperone his client to the Dept of Motor Vehicles on Monday.

In fact, Judge Jesse Furman seemed committed to showing the defense who the boss is now. “We live in a democracy, but this courtroom is not a democracy,” he proclaimed. The 40-year-old judge set a “firm” trial date for ten months from now, a herculean deadline for defense lawyers who will have to review a mountain range of documents produced by the government. After some gentle protests, Furman extended the date, in stone, for June 2014. The government estimates it will be a one-to-two month trial. And it promises to be a dandy.

After 90 minutes in the courtroom yesterday, the show was over, for now. Outside the courthouse, one major defendant lit a cigarette just a few feet from a newspaper photographer, who shot photos of him in rapid succession. The young man didn’t seem to mind one bit. “I can always tell when defendants are dying to have their photos taken,” said the cameraman.

Another defendant who pled innocent, a Florida-based poker champ named Abraham Mosseri, was also hanging out a few feet from the cameras. He was wearing trendy five-toed brown sneakers that he announced he’d purchased on 57th Street. The photographers sensed he really wanted his photo taken. But there was no need; Abe’s picture had already been disseminated a few days earlier by the FBI.

Richard Behar - Forbes


סוחר האמנות הלל נחמד ו"מדאם הפוקר" מולי בלום נעצרו עם 32 חשודים נוספים בהפעלת רשתות הימורים לא חוקיות

תבי אישום הוגשו שלשום בביהמ"ש במנהטן נגד הלל נחמד, בן למשפחת סוחרי אמנות מהידועות בעולם, ו־33 בני אדם החשודים בהפעלת רשתות הימורים לא חוקיות. נחמד (34), יהודי ממוצא סורי, המנהל גלריית אמנות במלון קרלייל בניו יורק, נעצר בשבוע שעבר.

לפי החשד, רשתות ההימורים היו מעורבות בסחיטה ובהלבנת כספים באמצעות המאפיה הרוסית. "הניו יורק טיימס" דיווח

כי כל הנאשמים כפרו בהאשמות. בין החשודים: מולי בלום, שהתפרסמה כ"מדאם הפוקר" ואשר עלתה לכותרות ב־2011 על חלקה בארגון משחקי פוקר סודיים בהשתתפות סלבריטאים כמו ליאונרדו דיקפריו, מאט דיימון ובן אפלק.

לטענת ה־FBI, נחמד היה שותף במימון משחקי פוקר שנערכו ברחבי ניו יורק. עם לקוחותיו נמנו ידוענים, אנשי עסקים מוול סטריט וספורטאים. עוד הואשם כי העביר מהחשבונות של אביו בשווייץ 1.35 מיליון דולר על מנת להמשיך ולממן את התוכנית. לפי ההערכות, מאז 2006 הפעילות הלא חוקית של נחמד הכניסה לו 50 מיליון דולר

"איננו מאמינים שהפר את החוק ביודעין. להערכתנו הוא יזוכה", מסר פרקליטו בנג'מין ברפמן.

הלל נחמד (34) הוא בנו של דיוויד נחמד, שנחשב לאחד מאספני וסוחרי האמנות הבולטים בעולם ואשר הונו נאמד ב-3 מיליארד דולר. נחמד הבן המשיך במסורת המשפחתית ובבעלותו גלריית הלי נחמד, שמוצגות בה יצירות של וסילי קנדינסקי ופרנסיס בייקון. ב"ניו יורק פוסט" מציינים כי הוא נחשב לדמות ידועה בחיי הלילה של ניו יורק, ונוהג להוציא בין 5,000 ל-10,000 דולר בערב על משקאות במועדונים יוקרתיים. נחמד מסתובב בחברת מפורסמים כמו דוגמנית העל גיז'ל בונדשן ובעלה שחקן הפוטבול טום בריידי.

ב"ניו יורק אובזרבר" מציינים גם כי נחמד נחשב כחובב נדל"ן. בבעלותו פנטהאוז בשווי 9 מיליון דולר במיאמי, וכמו כן רכש את כל הדירות בקומה ה-51 בטראמפ טאואר.

מעורבותו של נחמד בחקירה של ה-FBI מוסיפה למוניטין השנויים במחלוקת של המשפחה. בכתבה שפורסמה ב"פורבס" ב-2007, אמרו מקורות בעולם האמנות טענו כי בני המשפחה אינם מהימנים ולא עומדים במילה שלהם בעסקאות אמנות, וכי קשה לעבוד אצלם בשל "ריבים בטונים גבוהים בגלריה".

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