A high-flying New York art dealer has admitted to leading a multi-million-dollar international gambling ring in a case that also involves Russian mobsters and a Hollywood “Poker Princess” who set up games for movie stars like Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Hillel “Helly” Nahmad, whose worth was estimated by Forbes at $1.75bn, pleaded guilty in a Manhattan federal court to operating a gambling business and agreed to forfeit $6,427,000 and the Raoul Dufy painting “Carnaval à Nice, 1937,” worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Under a plea bargain with prosecutors that saw other charges dropped, Nahmad faces up to five years in prison, rather than 92 years he previously faced on charges of money laundering, racketeering, conspiracy and other crimes.
“Judge, this all started as a group of friends betting on sports events, but I recognise that I crossed the line,” Nahmad said in court.
What supposedly started as a group of friends grew into a multi-million-dollar criminal business. Nahmad was one of 34 defendants indicted in April for involvement in two related gambling and bookmaking rings accused of running illegal high-stakes online gambling, as well as underground poker games for professional players, Wall Street financiers and celebrities. Prosecutors say they laundered at least $100m. One of those indicted allegedly sent mixed martial arts fighters to collect a debt.
Professional poker player Vadim Trincher, who operated what prosecutors called “the world’s largest sports book” out of his $5m apartment in Trump Tower, headed up one ring that focused on oligarchs in Moscow and Kiev, while Nahmad, Vadim’s son Illya and a man named Noah “The Oracle” Siegel ran the other ring catering to multi-millionaires and billionaires in New York and Los Angeles. According to the indictment, the Nahmad-Trincher Organisation took tens of millions of dollars in bets each year through gambling websites operating illegally in the United States, then laundered the money through bank accounts and plumbing, real estate, car repair and used-car businesses.
While Nahmad “got away relatively easy,” the “real question is what happens to the Trinchers and others who seem to have been involved in more serious criminal activity,” New York University professor Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian organised crime, told The Independent.
“If they are convicted, and on serious charges with serious penalties, then this can be said to have dealt a solid blow to Russian organised crime in the United States,” he said.
At the top of the indictment was the Russian Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, who is wanted by Interpol and was previously indicted for allegedly bribing ice-skating judges at the 2002 Winter Olympics. He continues to live openly in Moscow. According to the indictment, he used his status as a criminal authority to resolve disputes with clients of the gambling rings through “threats of violence and economic harm.” In an interview on television channel Mir 24, Tokhtakhounov called the gambling ring case “yet another fairytale from the Americans,” although he admitted he “might have given advice” to his friends among the defendants.
One of the other figures indicted is Molly Bloom, who won her notoriety as the “Poker Princess” who previously admitted to hosting illicit high-stakes games for movie and sports stars including Damon, DiCaprio, Ben Affleck and Pete Sampras.
Nahmad’s family controls one of the world’s largest collections of Impressionist and Modernist art.