Seven people in New York are looking at possibly spending some time behind bars for their involvement in an illegal gambling operation based out of Astoria that was linked to Costa Rica. According to a report by New York’s QNS media outlet, the seven have been charged on a 39-count indictment with crimes that include the promotion of gambling, conspiracy, enterprise corruption and money laundering. The news comes soon after a man linked to the Genovese crime family pleaded guilty in New Jersey for illegal gambling operations that were also tied to Costa Rica.
The individuals in the latest bust are accused of conspiring to take sports wagers directly through their location in Astoria, as well as via an Internet wire room in the Central American country. Bettors were apparently able to contact the platform through its website, a toll-free number, agents or in person at the Astoria office.
Law enforcement officials in the New York Police Department’s Criminal Enterprise Division (CED) launched a dedicated investigation into illegal sports gambling back in January 2016 as it sought to break up the activity in Queens and other areas. They were able to receive authorization from judges to conduct electronic surveillance, which led to the interception of “thousands” of allegedly incriminating conversations on gambling, as well as numerous text message communications.
This past Tuesday, police officers arrested the seven individuals, seizing gambling records and computers, as well as $47,000 in cash. Among those taken into custody were Michael Regan of Long Island, who was the apparent leader of the gang, Robert Brieger of Rego Park and Luan Bexheti of Astoria, Gerald Schneider and Lisa Nino of Middle Village, John Ottomano of Roslyn and Robert Utnick of Bayside.
Of the seven, all but Brieger were arraigned in Queens Criminal Court and released on their own recognizance. Brieger is the lone standout because he was operating out of Costa Rica. He has reportedly already been arrested by police in that country and is waiting to be extradited back to the US.
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. The CED investigators also witnessed several exchanges that purportedly facilitated payment transactions or transfers.
According to a statement by acting Queens District Attorney John M. Ryan, “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.”