A “terrible mistake”
The three-week trial of ‘Lottery Lawyer’ Jason Kurland has started in a Brooklyn federal court with the accused’s attorney describing him as “one of the victims.”
Speaking on Wednesday, Kurland’s counsel — Tim Kasulis of Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello PC — addressed the jury in his opening remarks. He argued that prosecutors had made a “terrible mistake” by wrongly charging his client of defrauding clients out of $80m.
a scheme to swindle lottery winners
Prosecutors from the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York (USAO-EDNY) indicted Kurland for his role in a scheme to swindle lottery winners back in August 2020. Kurland built his practice around giving legal and financial advice to lottery jackpot winners, directing them towards traditional routes to invest their funds.
Assistant US Attorney Louis Pellegrino said in his opening argument Wednesday, however, that after Kurland won his clients’ trust, he began to sell them on “certain alternative investments” for his own gain. “The defendant never told the clients that he was one of the owners of the businesses that he was invested in, and the defendant never disclosed the 1% kickback fee that he was receiving,” Pellegrino explained.
Kickbacks and Ponzi schemes
Prosecutors originally charged Kurland with conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering, accusing him and his partners in Cheddar Capital of bilking three lottery winners out of tens of millions of dollars by steering them to invest unknowingly into a $200m Ponzi scheme run by Long Island jeweler Gregory Altieri.
According to a 2020 DOJ press release, Altieri confessed to wire fraud for duping over 80 investors in a two-year $200m scam involving “nonexistent wholesale jewelry deals.”
According to the New York Daily News, one of the victims supposedly duped by Kurland, $245m Powerball jackpot Lotto winner Nandlall Mangal, spoke during the hearing on Wednesday. In response to a question from the defense, he said “it would have made a difference” to him at the time had he known Kurland was getting an alleged 1% kickback.
“And if [Kurland] was getting paid, it wasn’t because of my best interests,” Mangal said during the trial’s opening day. He turned to the self-declared “lottery law expert” after his big win in 2018, citing lack of financial knowledge regarding where to invest the cash. Mangal said Kurland made him feel “very comfortable.”
Kurland’s Cheddar Capital partners, Francis Smookler and Frangesco Russo, are both cooperating witnesses in the three-week trial having already pled guilty to fraud, money laundering, and extortionate lending. When Russo took to the stand on Thursday, he said Cheddar Capital filed a confession of judgment for $68m dollars against Altieri and his business, but “he never paid us back.”
borrowing from Peter to pay Paul”
By the time the partners entered a sketchy deal to sell personal protective equipment to California at the height of the first outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, Cheddar Capital, according to Russo’s testament on Thursday, had entered into a tailspin, “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.”
“At this point, the FBI was knocking on doors of [Kurland’s] clients,” Russo told the jury in New York. “He started to become frantic.”
Kurland’s lawyer, however, maintains his client is as much of a victim as the lottery winners he is alleged to have tricked. Kasulis said Kurland was conned by Russo and Smookler, who stole from him, lied about it, and were heard in a wiretap belittling the lottery lawyer as a dupe.