Roslyn man indicted as one of group who allegedly defrauded lottery winners

Rose Weldon

A Roslyn man is among those indicted, along with a self-proclaimed “lottery lawyer,” for allegedly attempting to defraud lottery winners of over $107 million, the U.S. attorney’s office of the Eastern District of New York said Tuesday.

The Roslyn man, Frangesco “Frankie” Russo, 38, was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, conspiracy to commit extortionate extension of credit and extortionate extension of credit.

Also indicted in the case are Christopher Chierchio of Staten Island, whom court documents claim to be a “soldier” in the Genovese crime family and the controller of an entity called Chrch Group; Jason Kurland of Dix Hills, an attorney with Rivkin Radler who calls himself “the lottery lawyer” and specializes in clients who have won the lottery; and Francis Smookler of Dix Hills, a former securities broker who allegedly worked with Russo.

The office claims that the four men defrauded three of Kurland’s clients, unnamed in the court documents, who had won a $1.5 billion Mega Millions lottery, a $245 million Powerball jackpot, and a $150 million jackpot, respectively.

“The [victims] each paid Kurland and his law firm hundreds of thousands of dollars, in part so that he could advise them on how to safely invest their money,” the office said in the statement. “After gaining their trust with primarily traditional investments, Kurland steered his clients to invest in various entities and business deals controlled and directed by Russo, Smookler and Chierchio, and received kickbacks in return – which Kurland failed to disclose to his clients.”

The victims would then receive portions of their own funds as “interest payments,” while millions of dollars they gave to Kurland were allegedly used to support the defendants’ lavish lifestyles, including private jets, expensive vacations and luxury vehicles including two yachts. Almost $80 million was determined to have been lost.

“The funds that the defendants actually invested in various entities and deals were, in large part, eventually lost,” the office said.

Russo is further accused of attempting to extort Gregory Altieri, a jewelry merchant, after he and Smookler invested some of the victims’ money with his business and gave Altieri a $250,000 “street loan.”

In recorded conversations, the authorities said, Russo and Smookler threatened Altieri shortly after he lost most of the invested money. On one call, Russo compared himself to a mob-affiliated character in “Uncut Gems,” a movie that ends with the indebted diamond dealer, played by Adam Sandler, shot dead by that character.

Later, Russo allegedly directly threatened Altieri in a phone call with Smookler on the line.

“They’re gonna pop your head off in front of your [obscenity]  kids,” a court document quotes Russo as saying.

Further, the document says that Russo later claimed that “they” were coming for Altieri’s family, and that “if this is being recorded, I don’t want any part of this.” When Altieri pressed on what would happen to his family, Russo allegedly said, “They’re going to make you watch as they rip your son’s teeth out of his mouth, watch, they’re going to do worse things to your wife.”

Russo’s address was not listed in court documents, but a Roslyn Harbor address at 720 Motts Cove Road North was mentioned as being the subject of criminal forfeiture, along with several other properties allegedly bought with the scheme’s funds. The real estate website Zillow indicates that the property was sold in November for $1.7 million and is now listed as being worth $2.2 million.

Seth DuCharme, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director-in-charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York field office, announced the arrests and charges.

“Defendant 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,” DuCharme said.  “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.”

“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 Sweeney.  “The FBI New York discovered how these victims were persuaded to put large chunks of their cash into investments that benefited the defendants. Rather than try their luck at the lottery, these men resorted to defrauding the victims to get rich, but their gamble didn’t pay off.”

DuCharme and attorneys Andrey Spektor and Lindsay K. Gerdes also signed a letter to Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom requesting permanent orders of detention against Russo and Smookler, and suggesting the detention of Chierchio and Kurland.

The defense’s representation has been announced as Telemachus Kasulis of the Manhattan-based firm Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello for Kurland, the Manhattan-based Tom Harvey of the firm Harvey and Hackett and Gerald McMahon for Chierchio, the Garden City-based Kevin Keating for Smookler, and Joseph Conway and Robert LaRusso, both of the Mineola-based LaRusso, Conway and Bartling law firm, for Russo.

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