19 Aug 2020
He called himself the “Lottery Lawyer,” developing a national reputation for helping high-profile lottery winners with their investments.
He promised to secure their wealth for generations and to protect them from scam artists.
But on Tuesday, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn accused the lawyer, Jason M. Kurland, of working with a mob associate to steal millions of dollars from his clients.
Mr. Kurland, 46, was arrested on Tuesday morning at his home on Long Island alongside three other men — including Christopher Chierchio, 52, who prosecutors said was a reputed soldier for the Genovese crime family.
As part of the scheme, Mr. Kurland tricked three lottery winners who had hired him into putting $107 million into various investments, prosecutors said. The lottery winners lost a total of more than $80 million.
One of them was the winner of last year’s $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot in South Carolina.
After persuading the lottery winners to invest, the four men then spent some of the funds on golf club memberships, yachts, private jets, a Porsche and other luxury cars and shopping sprees at stores like Fendi, prosecutors said.
“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 William F. Sweeney Jr., head of the F.B.I.’s New York office.
Mr. Kurland and his alleged co-conspirators face several counts of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. They each pleaded not guilty at their arraignments on Tuesday.
A lawyer for Mr. Kurland declined to comment. A lawyer for Mr. Chierchio said his client was not affiliated with the mafia and expected to be cleared of the charges.
Law enforcement officials had been wiretapping the men’s phone calls for months, including conversations in which they discussed whether they might go to jail.
The lottery winners paid between $75,000 and $200,000 in upfront payments to hire Mr. Kurland and his law firm, according to court papers. Mr. Kurland then charged monthly fees of between $15,000 and $50,000.
A spokeswoman for Rivkin Radler, the law firm where Mr. Kurland has worked since 2018, said the firm was cooperating with the authorities and planned to remove him as a partner.
In a 2016 interview with Vice, Mr. Kurland discussed the prevalence of scams targeting lottery winners. “A lot of these winners are not sophisticated enough to see it,” he said, “so you really have to rely on the professionals.”
On Mr. Kurland’s Twitter account, he often urged lottery winners around the country to hire him, using hashtags like #callme. In previous interviews, he said he has represented lottery winners since 2011, specializing in navigating the laws around real estate and trusts.
Behind the scenes, prosecutors said, Mr. Kurland was getting kickbacks for steering lottery winners to invest in business deals controlled by Mr. Chierchio and the two other defendants, Frangesco Russo, 38, and Francis Smookler, 45.
Some of the deals involved companies that sold personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic to the state of California and to the New York Police Department, court papers showed.
During a phone call last month that was intercepted by law enforcement, Mr. Kurland told an associate that the growing coronavirus outbreak in Florida would bode well for business. “The worse it is the better,” he said, according to prosecutors.
The men directed some of the lottery winners’ money to a jeweler named Gregory Altieri, who had promised sky-high returns to his investors. Last month, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn accused him of defrauding his investors in a $200 million Ponzi scheme.
By Nicole Hong, The New York Times, 18 August 2020
Read more at The New York Times
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