Brooklyn federal prosecutors have alleged that a Long Island attorney, self-dubbed the “lottery lawyer,” orchestrated a mob-like scheme that defrauded lottery winners out of over $100 million of their winnings. According to the US Attorney’s Office, 46-year-old Jason Kurland took clients from different parts of the country, including a $1.5 billion Mega Millions winner, and promised to invest their winnings. Instead, he diverted their money into questionable investments managed by reputed Genovese crime family member Christopher Chierchio and two other associates.
US prosecutors claim that Kurland received kickbacks for channeling funds to Christopher Chierchio and his associates, who then returned a portion of the money to the lottery winners under the guise of “interest payments” on their non-existent investments. However, the supposed “winners” ultimately suffered significant losses.
Authorities believe that Kurland has been running this fraudulent operation since 2018, during which he allegedly siphoned off $107 million from unsuspecting investors.
Rather than being used for legitimate purposes, the misappropriated funds were used to finance the scammers’ extravagant lifestyles, which included lavish vacations, private jets, and even two yachts, as stated by the FBI.
“Lottery winners can’t help but feel ecstatic after winning millions of dollars, and the individuals arrested this morning have unscrupulously taken advantage of that euphoric feeling,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney on Tuesday.
He continued, stating, “The FBI New York uncovered how these victims were convinced to invest large sums of money in ventures that ultimately benefited the defendants. Instead of relying on good luck, these men resorted to defrauding the victims in their pursuit of wealth, but their gamble did not pay off.”
The scam involved two additional individuals: Francis Smookler, a 45-year-old former securities broker, and 38-year-old Frangesco Russo. Prosecutors allege that they used funds obtained from Kurland’s clients to secure a $250,000 “street loan” from jeweler Gregory Altieri. However, after Altieri failed to repay the loan, Russo and Smookler resorted to threatening him and his family to ensure repayment.
A wiretap recording allegedly captures Russo warning Altieri, saying, “They’re gonna pop your head off in front of your f—ng kids. This guy has no clue what he’s getting into.”
All four defendants have been charged with wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy. They were arraigned via teleconference with US Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom. As of Tuesday evening, Chierchio had pled not guilty and is expected to be released on a $3 million bond. The other three defendants were awaiting arraignment.
Chierchio had previously been acquitted in an unrelated bid-rigging case in Manhattan State Supreme Court in 2019. The case involved allegations of conspiracy to manipulate construction bids for a luxury apartment building project in Brooklyn, according to the Staten Island Advance.
In July, Altieri was charged by federal prosecutors in an unrelated wire fraud case. The indictment accused him of operating a $200 million Ponzi scheme for two years, wherein he enticed investors with fictitious jewelry deals and promised them inflated returns on their fraudulent investments.