The self-described “Lottery Lawyer” from Dix Hills was among three Long Islanders indicted for allegedly conspiring to scam lottery winners out of $107 million to fund the suspects’ lavish lifestyles, federal authorities said.
Forty-six-year-old Jason Kurland, Francis Smookler, 38, of Roslyn, and Frangesco Russo, 45, of Oyster Bay, were arrested Tuesday on charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy in Brooklyn federal court. Also charged was 52-year-old Christopher Chierchio of Staten Island.
“Kurland allegedly violated the law and his oath as a lawyer when he allowed co-conspirators to pillage his clients’ bank accounts for their own enrichment,” said Seth D. DuCharme, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. “In addition, Russo and Smookler allegedly threatened to torture an individual’s wife and children. The defendants callously thought they could line their pockets with lottery winnings without consequence, but today their luck ran out.”
Kurland, who is said to have represented dozens of lottery winners nationwide who’ve won a total of more than $3 billion, was also charged with honest services fraud. Russo, and Smookler, a former securities broker, were additionally charged with extortionate extension and collection of credit for allegedly threatening to kill an individual and his family for failure to repay a loan.
The victims included a $1.5 billion Mega Millions lottery winner, a $245 million Powerball jackpot winner, and a $150 million jackpot winner, who each paid Kurland and his law firm
hundreds of thousands of dollars to advise them on how to safely invest their money, authorities said.
After gaining their trust, Kurland steered the victims to invest in entities controlled by Russo, Smookler and Chierchio, who gave Kurland kickbacks in return, which the attorney did not disclose to the victims, authorities said. The suspects are accused of using the funds to fund their lavish lifestyles, including private jets, expensive vacations, luxury vehicles, and two yachts.
The defendants were recorded discussing the scheme and trying to cover their tracks on wiretapped phone calls, according to federal investigators, who seized 13 bank accounts as a part of the probe. Conversations recorded included those in which Russo and Smookler invested the victims’ money with Gregory Altieri, a jewelry merchant who they gave a $250,000 “street loan.” Russo and Smookler expected to be repaid more than $400,000 for the loan, and the threatened the victim and the victim’s family with violence if he didn’t repay.
“They’re gonna pop your head off in front of your f****** kids,” Russo told Altieri after comparing himself with a mobster in the Adam Sandler movie Uncut Gems that ends with an indebted diamond dealer shot to death. “This guy has no clue what he’s getting into.”
Smookler also threatened Altieri, prosecutors said.
“You watch my man, you f****d me, now watch what I am gonna do to you, I’m coming brother,” Smookler said, according to investigators. “Full f****** steam ahead.”
Russo and Smookler also threatened to harm Altieri’s family if Altieri did not
repay the loan, authorities said.
“[W]e are gonna find your wife today,” Smookler told Altieri, according to investigators.
Russo told Altieri that the people coming for him are “going to make you watch as they rip your son’s teeth out of his mouth,” according to investigators. “Watch, they’re going to do worse things to your wife.”
All four pleaded not guilty during a teleconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom, who set bail between $1 million and $3 million for each. Prosecutors are appealing bail being granted for Russo based on his particularly violent threats.
Kurland’s attorney declined to comment. Kurland was a partner at the Uniondale-based law firm of Rivkin Radler, the largest law firm on Long Island, which said it was unaware of the allegations against Kurland until his arrest.
“We were taken by complete surprise by the allegations against Mr. Kurland,” said Laurie Bloom, the firm’s spokeswoman. “The firm has no role in nor knowledge of the criminal activities described. We were contacted today by the U.S. Attorney’s office and are cooperating in their investigation. The firm is taking immediate steps to remove Mr. Kurland as a partner with the firm.”
Russo’s attorney, Joseph Conway, said his client “looks forward to clearing his name in the court proceedings to follow. He denies the allegations that have been filed.”
Smookler and Chierchio’s attorneys were not immediately available for comment.
“Rather than try their luck at the lottery, these men resorted to defrauding the victims to get rich,” said William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office. “But their gamble didn’t pay off.”