Law enforcement agents busted an illegal gambling ring based in Queens, New York, on June 4. The gang apparently has ties to Costa Rica, in Central America. Police made seven arrests. One suspect, arrested in Costa Rica, is now facing extradition to the US.
Law enforcement officials made arrests in Queens and neighboring Nassau County after raiding a property in Astoria, Queens. Acting Queens District Attorney John Ryan said the gang was running an illegal sports betting operation from the office. During the raid, police officers seized computers, $47,000 in cash, and gambling records.
Head of the gambling ring is 61-year-old Michael Regan, a resident of Long Island, according to Ryan. He allegedly used six other residents living in Queens to assist in running the illegal operation. One of them, 70-year-old Robert Brieger, was arrested in Costa Rica by local law enforcement officers.
The seven are facing 39 indictments, including conspiracy, money-laundering, loan sharking, enterprise corruption, and illegal gambling.
Apart from Brieger, who is awaiting extradition, the other six were bailed on their own recognizance after an initial arraignment before a grand jury in Queens. They are due to reappear in court on July 16.
Ryan said: “This office, working collaboratively with our law enforcement colleagues, have taken down a number of illegal gambling operations over the years. Putting these kinds of illegal enterprises out of business saves untold numbers of people from financial devastation.”
Police Commissioner James O’Neill said: “The NYPD and its law enforcement partners are committed to driving down crime beyond the current historical lows in New York City. It is due to this cooperation that this investigation involving enterprise corruption has successfully resulted in this indictment.”
A sophisticated operation
The gang is alleged to have begun operating in January 2016. Gamblers could place bets using a toll-free 800 number or via a website. They could even turn up to the Astoria, Queens, premises to place wagers in person. A wire room in Costa Rica held the server for the website.
The NYPD Criminal Enterprise Division quickly became aware of the ring and launched an investigation. Over the course of the next three years, the NYPD used wiretaps, electronic eavesdropping devices, film, and physical surveillance to collect evidence. They intercepted thousands of texts and voicemails,
Recorded telephone conversations revealed the suspects discussing various aspects of their enterprise. They are said to have conferred on matters such as interest rates, customers’ accounts, and moving money around.
Six of the criminals were identified through the surveillance as having participated in phone calls that talked about various aspects of the operation, including cash transfers, interest rates, gamblers’ accounts, and other details.
Gang members under surveillance were observed transferring bags and envelopes containing cash during meetings in Queens and neighboring Nassau County.
Establishing gang members
The NYPD quickly identified Regan as the mastermind of the gang. He is alleged to have profited from each wager. Brieger’s alleged role was accounts manager, chief clerk, and lead agent. Luan Bexheti was also an agent and runner. He was described by the DA’s office a “close associate” of Regan.
Of the rest of the gang, Gerald Schneider and Lisa Nino worked out of the Astoria office, with Schneider managing the wire room and Nino working as a clerk. They and John Ottomano and Robert Utnick also worked as agents and runners.
All seven are facing lengthy jail sentences.
Attraction of Costa Rica
Sports betting is legal in Costa Rica, but it was legalized in the US only in May 2018, after the Supreme Court overturned the longstanding federal ban on the activity.
Costa Rica has long been a popular base with illegal bookmakers in the US, who like to place their offshore online sportsbooks on servers in the tiny Central American state.
In 2013, Dutch law enforcement agents busted an illegal gambling ring known as Sheriff Gaming. The group was operating at least seven online gambling sites – illegal in the Netherlands – using servers based in Costa Rica.
Recently, a New Jersey man with connections to the Genovese organized crime family appeared in court on a number of charges concerning illegal gambling. He pled guilty to the operations, which had links to Costa Rica.