Seven Americans have been charged on a 39-count indictment for various crimes including money laundering, gambling promotion, conspiracy, and enterprise corruption. One of them – Robert Brieger – was operating out of Costa Rica and is waiting to be extradited back to the US. The seven people stand accused of taking bets on sporting events through wire rooms in both Astoria, Queens and Costa Rica. Note: online sports gambling is legal in Costa Rica.
This sports gambling ring has been operating since January 2016, according to authorities. Gamblers either placed their bets via a toll-free phone number, or in person at the Astoria, Queens wire room. Bets could also be placed online using the wire room based in San Jose, Costa Rica. The gambling ring had been under surveillance for quite some time, during which investigators overheard suspects discussing client’s accounts, cash transfers, interest rates, and loan sharking activities. They also observed the accused exchanging money in bags or envelopes.
The seven accused are all from Queens or Long island, with Michael Regan (61) operating as the primary bookmaker, enabling him to profit from each bet placed. The ring also included Robert Brieger (70), of Rego Park Queens, who is accused of being the head clerk and money manager. Luan Bexheti (47), also of Queens, is the alleged primary agent and runner. Gerald Schneider (67), of Queens, is the alleged manager of the local wire room. Robert Utnick (54), of Queens, is an alleged agent and runner. John Ottomano (53), of Long Island, is also an alleged agent and runner, and the other woman arrested, Lisa Nino (36), allegedly functioned as a wire room clerk and runner.
Police arrested the suspects, seizing gambling records, client files, and $47,000 in cash. The gambling ring apparently was generating multi millions of dollars annually for these seven accused criminals. They have been charged with enterprise corruption, money laundering, promoting gambling, and violating New York’s Organized Crime Control Act. The defendants were ordered to surrender their passports and return to court on July 16, with the exception of Brieger, who is awaiting extradition.
Queens District Attorney John M. Ryan stated, “This office, working collaboratively with our law enforcement colleagues, have taken down a number of illegal operations over the years. Putting these kinds of illegal enterprises out of business saves untold numbers of people from financial devastation.”
Many sports books have been taken down over the last few years in Costa Rica. It is unknown yet if this particular sportsbook group is affiliated with the Genovese crime family, as other sportsbook betting groups operating out of Costa Rica have been in previous years. In 2014, two Mafioso-connected, Costa Rica based, sportsbook gamblers were arrested: 75-year old “Uncle Patsy”, Pat Pirozzi, and 49-year old “Johnny Fugazi”, John Breheney, operators of the multi-million dollar betting ring known as 44wager.com.
About the Author :
Carol Blair Vaughn has written for Inside Costa Rica and The Costa Rica Star, as well as El
Residente magazine. She grew up in Latin America, traveling with her father Jack Vaughn,
former Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, and US Ambassador to Panama