New York attorney Jason Kurland specialized in protecting lottery winners’ money. But on Tuesday, a federal court charged him and his accomplices with defrauding his clients for tens of millions.
Prosecutors unsealed the indictment in a Brooklyn court this week. It charges Kurland and three others, including an alleged mob associate, with conducting the scheme.
Charges filed against New York lottery lawyer
In a press release, the US Attorney of the Eastern District of New York lists four charges filed against the group:
- Wire fraud
- Wire fraud conspiracy
- Money laundering
- Money laundering conspiracy
The group allegedly defrauded Kurland’s clients out of $107 million. Acting US Attorney Seth DuCharme helped announce the 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,” says DuCharme.
Swindled jackpot winners thought they were being protected
The release describes how Kurland actively sought out lottery winners all over the country to represent them.
Kurland advertised himself as the “Lottery Lawyer.” He spent the last decade successfully soliciting dozens of clients, even tweeting at them with the hashtag #callme to initiate contact.
Among Kurland’s clients were a $1.5 billion Mega Millions winner, a $245 million Powerball winner, and another $150 million jackpot winner.
Kurland advised his clients to consider moving into a new residence, to avoid social media, and to change their phone numbers after their lottery wins.
“But most importantly,” reports the Washington Post, “he’d tell them, they needed legal protection from scammers.”
A scheme involving investments, kickbacks and private jets
The “lottery victims” (as the indictment describes them) paid Kurland’s firm “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in order for him to advise them how best to invest their winnings.
As alleged, the scheme generally involved starting with traditional investments in order to gain clients’ trust.
Then, “Kurland steered his clients to invest in various entities and business deals” controlled by his co-conspirators Christopher Chierchio, Frangesco Russo and Francis Smookler.
According to the Post, Chierchio “is a known soldier for the Genovese crime family.”
Kurland would then receive “kickbacks” from his accomplices, payments he did not disclose to his clients.
“Millions of dollars were stolen to support the defendants’ lavish lifestyles,” the release explains.
The group allegedly spent the funds on private jets, luxury vehicles and yachts. They also spent the money on luxury vacations.
The defendants did in fact invest some of the clients’ winnings. However that money and funds spent on other deals “were, in large part, eventually lost.”
Additional allegations of extortion, threats
The indictment also includes the description of an additional extortion scheme involving Russo and Smookler.
According to the description, the two men extended a “street loan” of $250,000 to a jewelry merchant, Gregory Altieri. (Altieri is facing one federal charge of wire fraud, himself, in the same court.)
The pair demanded Altieri repay more than $400,000, including threatening Altieri and his family with physical harm should he fail to make the payment.
Prosecutors were able to share such details because investigators recorded conversations revealing the plot. In one, Russo compared himself to a mob-affiliated character in the recent film Uncut Gems starring Adam Sandler.
In an effort to recover stolen funds, the government has seized 13 bank accounts associated with the scheme. Liens were also placed on properties owned by Russo and Smookler.
The Eastern District’s Business and Securities Fraud Section is handling the case, and in the defendants’ court appearance on Tuesday, all four pleaded not guilty.