A Long Island attorney who bills himself as the “lottery lawyer” ran a mobbed-up scheme to bilk jackpot winners out of more than $100 million in prize money, Brooklyn federal prosecutors alleged Tuesday.
Jason Kurland, 46, cultivated clients from across the nation, including a $1.5 billion Mega Millions winner, and promised to invest their winnings — but instead threw their cash into shady investments run by reputed Genovese crime family soldier Christopher Chierchio and two other associates, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District said.
Kurland allegedly got kickbacks for steering the money to Chierchio, 52, and his partners, who funneled a portion of the lottery winners’ money back to them under the guise that they were “interest payments” on their phony investments. But the “winners” ended up losing.
The attorney, who oversaw the scam from 2018 until this year, skimmed $107 million from the unsuspecting investors, prosecutors alleged.
The money instead funded the scammers’ lavish lifestyles — which included pricey vacations, private jets, and even two yachts, the feds claimed.
“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,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said in a statement Tuesday.
“The FBI New York discovered how these victims were persuaded to put large chunks of their cash into investments that benefited the defendants,” Sweeney said. “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.”
Two other accused scammers, former securities broker Francis Smookler, 45, and 38-year-old Frangesco Russo, are also accused of using some of the money they got from Kurland’s clients to float a $250,000 “street loan” to jewelry merchant Gregory Altieri, prosecutors said.
Russo and Smookler, who expected Altieri to repay $400,000, then resorted to threatening the jeweler and his family for the repayment, the feds alleged.
“They’re gonna pop your head off in front of your f—ng kids,” Russo is allegedly heard telling Alteiri on a federal wiretap. “This guy has no clue what he’s getting into.”
In another taped call, Russo allegedly told Altieri that the people coming for him would “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.”
All four men were arraigned on wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy charges via teleconference by US Magistrates Judge Lois Bloom.
They all pleaded not guilty and all were released on bond. The bonds were set at $3 million for Chierchio, $2.5 million for Smookler, $2 million for Russo, and $1 million for Kurland.
Federal prosecutors said they are appealing Russo’s bond.
Last year, Chierchio, of Staten Island, was acquitted in an unrelated bid-rigging case in Manhattan State Supreme Court. He had been charged with conspiring to fix construction bids on a luxury apartment building projects in Brooklyn, the Staten Island Advance reported at the time.
Last month, federal prosecutors hit Altieri with a separate wire fraud indictment charging him with running a two-year $200 million Ponzi scheme by luring investors with phony jewelry deals and promising inflated returns.