Over 30 defendants were arraigned on Friday, April 19, 2013 for gambling-related crimes including illegal sports betting and money laundering. Judge Jesse Furman set a trial date of June 9, 2014 for the suspects who are thought to be part of two different international gambling rings. The two rings are called the "Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization" and the "Nahmad-Trincher Organization." Some of the more notable suspects affiliated with the rings include professional poker players Vadim Trincher and his son, Illya, prominent art dealer Hillel Nahman, and Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, the senior leader of a Russian mafia gang and one of the most wanted criminals in the world.
The defendants are accused of running illegal gambling activities in the form of high stakes poker and sports betting. Prosecutors say the members of the rings took their ill-gotten gambling profits and laundered the money in various banks and other institutions across the globe. The defendants have been linked to famous movie stars and wealthy Wall Street bigwigs.
The Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization
Two major organized crime groups are implicated in the arrests. One ring is called the Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization, named after suspects Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and poker player Vadim Trincher. Tokhtakhounov is nicknamed "Taiwanchik" because of his Asian looks; he is also often referred to as "Vor," a name which likens him to a Russian version of the Godfather. A third suspect, Anatoly Golubchuk, is also associated with the Taiwanchik-Trincher ring.
Tokhtakhounov has appeared on the Forbes list of top 10 most wanted criminals in the world on several different occasions. The 64-year old fugitive is thought to be deeply entrenched in the Russia mafia. He has been accused of a long list of international crimes, perhaps most notably the bribery of ice skating judges in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Prosecutors in this particular case say that Tokhtakhounov offered protection to members of the Taiwanchik-Trincher criminal organization and that threw his weight around in the Russian criminal underworld in order make violent threats against gamblers who were indebted to the organization.
Unlike the other defendants, Tokhtakhounov remains at large. He is thought to be in Russia at this time.
Vadim Trincher is a champion poker player with over $1 million in winnings. Prosecutors say the dual Israli-American citizen laundered up to $50 million in illicit gambling money through bank accounts in Cyprus, Russia, and the U.S. They report that their prosecuting evidence includes recordings of Trincher's voice making multiple threats of violence against gamblers who haven't paid their debts to the organization. Trincher has been accused of partnering with Russian mafia member Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. When questioned over the phone, the defendant's wife, Elena Trincher, denied this affiliation, telling authorities that her husband has very little contact with Tokhtakhounov.
The Nahmad-Trincher Organization
The Nahmad-Trincher Organization is the second criminal group implicated in the arrests. The ring is named after suspects Hillel Nahmad and Illya Trincher, who is the son of Vadim Trincher and a poker player just like his father. The Nahmad-Trincher Organization is thought to be subsidized in part by Nahmad's Manhatten art dealing business, as well an investment company called J.H. Capital which is led by poker celebrity John Hanson.
Hillel "Helly" Nahmad was born into an art dealing family business worth billions of dollars. At age 34, Nahmad drives lavish cars, dwells in multiple international homes, associates with elite movie stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Orlando Bloom, and dates A-list women like Brazilian model Ana Barros. He has been accused of taking part in an underground gambling ring whose activities include illegal sports betting, secretive high stakes poker games involving millionaire celebrities, and money laundering.
Defendant Arthur Azen has been linked to the Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization and the Nahmad-Trincher Organization. He faces up to 115 years in prison and a $2 million dollar fine if found guilty of his accused crimes. Prosecutors say he is one of the main individuals responsible for collecting illicit gambling money and distributing it within the organizations. He is accused of making threats of violence against gamblers who found themselves unable to pay their debts. The prosecution says Azen used mixed martial arts fighters as thugs to collect money from the organization's debtors. Azen's defense claims that he was "managing" the martial artists, not using them for harm.
The list of other suspects in the case includes some notable professional poker players, including Bill Edler, Peter Feldman, and Abe Mosseri.
Bill Edler: Illinois native and Las Vegas resident Bill Edler has won over $3 million in professional poker tournaments. Notable winnings include the 2007 World Series of Poker bracelet and the World Poker Tour title in September of that same year. Edler holds a law degree from the University of California.
Peter Feldman: A professional poker player from the town of Harper Woods, Michigan, Feldman burst onto the scene as an active winner of World Series of Poker tournaments in the mid-2000s. He has earned over $1 million dollars.
Abe Mosseri: New Yorker Mosseri plays backgammon and poker professionally. He has participated in high stakes online games through Full Tilt Poker under the nickname "EazyPeazy."
Hillel was photographed poolside with Leonardo DiCaprio, who is known for his high stakes poker penchant, only two days after he appeared in court for indictment on April 19th. Gossip-seeking press has delved into DiCaprio's affiliation with the accused criminal with gusto. Tobey Maguire and Matt Damon are also rumored to have social ties with Hillel. Although Hillel is reported to have delivered high stakes poker games to some notable movie stars, it is he who faces prosecution and jail time, not the silver screen icons.
This juicy news story has it all: illegal gambling, money laundering, movie stars, mafia bosses. It seems like it could be a plot from one of DiCaprio's movies. The story, however, is real. It will take a while for the plot to unravel, but by June of 2014, the public will know how it ends for these 34 defendants.