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Wiseguys on the Internet: Illegal Sports Betting Operation by Old-school Mobsters

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A sophisticated illegal online betting ring run by New Jersey mobsters has been uncovered by the US authorities.

Newark federal court sentences two alleged New Jersey mobsters for their role in an online sportsbook in the United States run from Costa Rica. Apparently, the old-school wiseguys were operating a high-tech offshore sports betting setup. The 49-year-old John Breheney, known as “Johnny Fugazi” or “Fu”, and 75-year-old Pat Pirozzi or “Uncle Patsy” were the center of the operation and have now received their sentences.

There were a total of 13 arrests back in May 2012 connected with what authorities called a “multi-million-dollar sports betting ring”. It was found to be run out of northern New Jersey with the help of Genovese crime family.

The illegal operation

US authorities uncover a high-tech illegal betting ring connected with the mob

• Old-school mobsters were running an illegal online sportsbook in the USA

• The operation was based in Costa Rica, but run from New Jersey

• 13 individuals have been arrested so far, some have already received sentences

Besides the two afore-mentioned alleged mobsters, there was a third suspect in this case, 37-year-old Eric Patten, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wasn’t sentenced with the other two. The totally illegal under American gambling laws operation was led by Joseph Lascala or “Pepe”, allegedly a “capo” and a made member of the Genovese family.

The betting ring was taking sports wagers via a special password protected website, owned by Joseph Graziano. He was quoted on a surveillance tape to say: “You’re in the wrong business now, you know? You should be in the sports business. … They’re gonna build it up to, like no end.”

The operation included “agents”, who essentially acted as modern bookmakers, each having their own pool of punters who were placing bets via the online destination. However, the ring still depended on the old-fashioned mob soldiers to get the money from those who refused to pay their losses. High interest rates and threats, just like in the movies, were a common thing.

In one of the meetings, which authorities also managed to capture on tape, Breheney was speaking with an informant about a punter owing money: “There’s no escape routes here. The only thing you can do is pay the money. … These are gangsters.”

The alleged leader of the operation, Graziano, has already pleaded guilty to his role along with seven others, they are yet to be sentenced. Lascala is still awaiting his trial.

The mob and the internet

According to the authorities, the mobsters are increasingly looking towards the internet in their search of income from those who bet on sports in the United States. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman had the following comments: “While traditional organized crime has been severely diminished by law enforcement efforts, there are still pockets of activity to be rooted out.”

He went on to add: “In just the past week, nine defendants have either pleaded guilty or been sentenced in this scheme, which married new technology to an old school, illegal sports gambling operation. Whether you track the bets with a notebook and pencil or a smartphone and laptop, bookmaking is still illegal.”

Just two years ago 20 people were charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut in relation to an illegal bookmaking operation also based out of Costa Rica. Some of those twenty individuals were alleged associates of the Gambino crime family.

Law enforcement agencies intensify their efforts

The story of mob-related internet betting operations can be dated back to 2009, well at least that’s what the authorities were able to unveil. New York law enforcement busted a half-billion-dollar illegal operation back then. They also were able to indict 30 suspects (some of them also crime family related). According to the official figures that operation was gathering money from around 8,000 punters and averaged around $20 million per month.

Last year, the Manhattan Attorney’s Office charged another 34 suspects with ties to Russian organized crime, also allegedly running an international sports betting operation. Higher charges of money laundering from Russia and Ukraine were applied there.

The latest busted ring was a highly lucrative operation. One of the surveillance recordings had Graziano bragging about his take from the Costa Rica ring: “I got 49 people. … These kids get two thousand each. If at the end of the year I can make two million and I gotta give away, like four or five hundred, that’s a million and a half, you know. My money.”

More wiseguys plead guilty

Breheney, an essential part of the recently uncovered operation has pleaded guilty last October to racketeering conspiracy in the Genovese crime family, and tax evasion. He was sentenced to 38 months and a $16,000 fine, as well as forfeiting of $400,000.

According to him he was getting a lot less from the betting ring than the higher-standing mobsters. He told an informant: “I got obligations. I gotta give Pep money every week. I give him part of my business.”

There was also a “right-hand man” to Lascala, above-mentioned Pirozzi. He also pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges last October and is now serving his 22 month prison sentence. When Patten will be sentenced in December, he will be facing up to 20 years in prison and a hefty $250,000 fine.

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