The all-night games were held in rarefied settings like a suite at the Plaza Hotel. One pink chip was worth $25,000. Masseuses were on hand to help relieve the tension,while the players were fuelled by food and drinks. And the stakes climbed into the stratosphere,with as much as $2 million on the table to be lost or won.
At one game,in an apartment in a glass condominium tower on Fifth Avenue,as cards fluttered and chips clattered across the table,its organizers suspected that a new player did not belong,though he had arrived with a regular. The two were asked to leave. Turned out the organizers were right: The new player was an undercover FBI agent.
At roughly the same time,some of the people who helped organize the poker games were taking in breathtaking wagers on college and professional sports. One man bet $300,000 on last years Super Bowl – and lost. Another placed a $1 million wager on another sporting event.
The description of the poker games and the wagers were among the details found in hundreds of conversations and text messages secretly captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation,exposing the shadowy and illegal world of high-stakes gambling in New York City.
The recordings,according to court papers,were made over the last two years during an investigation into what federal authorities have characterized as two related multimillion-dollar money-laundering and gambling rings.
One of the gambling operations,which prosecutors say was led in part by the scion of a New York family that has wielded enormous power in the art market,with one of the largest collections of Impressionist and Modernist works in the world,was based in New York and Los Angeles,and served hedge fund titans,real estate magnates,celebrities and athletes.
The other,which prosecutors said was led by a Russian organized crime figure,catered to wealthy Russians living in Russia,Ukraine and elsewhere.
The scion of the New York family is Hillel Nahmad,34,known as Helly,who was indicted in the case,along with 33 other people,on April 16; he is charged with racketeering,gambling and money laundering. He was released on bail.
The course of the investigation is detailed in hundreds of pages of wiretap and search-warrant affidavits.
Nahmads lawyers,Benjamin Brafman and Paul Shechtman,say their client has done nothing wrong. Brafman declined to discuss his clients secretly recorded conversations,which included one in which he speaks of using the familys art business as a cover to move around illicit money.
In it,Nahmad advises a woman to wire $150,000 to the bank account of his father,David (who was not charged),suggesting she lie about the reason,saying,You just be like,Oh yeah,I bought a,you know,Picasso drawing or something.
WILLIAM K RASHBAUM,JAMES GLANZ & RANDY KENNEDY