Genovese NY crime family links
Jason Kurland, 46, known as the ‘Lottery Lawyer’, was indicted Tuesday in a $107m scheme to swindle lottery winners. Prosecutors from the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) also charged Christopher Chierchio, 52, said to be a member of New York’s Genovese mafia, as an alleged co-conspirator, along with Francis Smookler and Frangesco Russo.
Charges include money laundering and money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy, and honest services fraud. Kurland was indicted on the latter for the alleged role he played in scamming his clients.
Kurland broke his lawyer’s oath
Russo, 38, and Smookler, 45, were charged with “extortionate extension and collection of credit” for threatening to torture and kill a jewelry dealer and his family for failing to pay back a $250,000 loan. All four were arrested ahead of their virtual arraignment before US Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom. The defendants pleaded not guilty.
The arrest came after months of wiretapped calls, during which the defendants discussed the possibility of imprisonment and the destruction of hard-drive evidence.
Acting EDNY US Attorney Seth DuCharme was quoted saying that Kurland broke his lawyer’s oath, while Russo and Smookler had run out of luck:
According to a Department of Justice press release, the millions stolen funded luxury lifestyles enjoyed by the four accused that included private jets, costly holidays, high-end vehicles, and yachts.
A massive scam
Prosecutors allege that Kurland received an upfront fee of between $75,000 and $200,000 plus a monthly retainer from lottery winners for safeguarding their gains. Kurland would then direct his clients to invest their money in supposedly trustworthy companies.
upfront fee of between $75,000 and $200,000 plus a monthly retainer
The investments Kurland recommended to his clients, however, turned out to be questionable ventures run by Chierchio, Smookler, and Russo. Kurland would, in turn, receive a kickback from the three.
Kurland was active in soliciting for business from jackpot winners on both his personal website, which is no longer accessible, and Twitter. In a tweet, the self-declared “lottery law expert” congratulated the winner of a Florida jackpot, urging them to get in touch:
According to justice authorities, one of Kurland’s victims had won a $1.bn Mega Millions jackpot, while another cashed in on a $245m Powerball lottery.
“Lottery winners can’t believe their luck when they win millions of dollars, and the men we arrested this morning allegedly used that euphoric feeling to their advantage,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr.
Graphic death threats
Court papers described Chierchio as a soldier in the Genovese crime family, one of New York’s notorious Five Families. Defense lawyer Gerald J. McMahon disputed his client’s involvement in organized crime, telling The Associated Press: “If he were not Italian, there would be no accusation of this nature.”
Prosecutors said Smookler and Russo invested some of the victim’s winnings with jewelry dealer Gregory Altieri, advancing him a “street loan” of a quarter-million dollars. The pair expected reimbursement of over $400,000 for the loan and threatened Altieri to try to collect the sum. Comparing himself to a mob heavy from the Adam Sandler movie Uncut Gems, Russo reportedly told Altieri: “They’re gonna pop your head off in front of your f—king kids.”
Russo also warned the jewelry merchant that the heavies coming for him were going to make him watch as “they rip your son’s teeth out of his mouth, watch, they’re going to do worse things to your wife.”