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Trial begins for lottery lawyer accused of big winner scam

When a Staten Island mechanic won big with a $245 Powerball jackpot, he didn’t have the financial savvy to invest his winnings, so he turned to “the lottery lawyer” for help. to help make complicated decisions.

Then the FBI came calling.

Long Island attorney Jason “Jay” Kurland, 47, befriended lotto winner Nandlall Mangal during his professional relationship with the new mega-millionaire, but the attorney betrayed that trust , convincing Mangal to invest in businesses he owned and obtaining bribes from , federal prosecutors alleged on the first day of Kurland’s trial on Wednesday.

“We had a large lump sum of money. We didn’t know what was coming next,” Mangal said of his fortune in 2018. “He put us at ease, very sure he could do it.”

Kurland, who was arrested in August 2020, faces a three-week trial in federal court in Brooklyn on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering.

He is accused of funneling winners’ money into his own cash advance business and losing more than $80 million of his clients’ money in a Ponzi scheme and a murky deal to sell personal protective equipment to the State of California at the height of the covid Pandemic.

Kurland’s business partners included former stockbroker Frank Smookler, Frankie Russo – the son of Joseph “JoJo” Russo, a Colombo crime family capo who died in 2007 in federal prison while serving time for murder and racketeering – and Christopher Chierchio, described in court documents. as a soldier of the Genoese family.

All three pleaded guilty in the case, and Smookler and Russo are due to testify against Kurland.

At first, Kurland directed its lucky lottery clients to traditional investment funds, Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Pellegrino said in his opening remarks.

“Then after gaining their trust, the defendant started introducing his clients to some alternative investments,” he said. “To ensure that he closed the deal with his clients, the defendant intentionally lied to them. The defendant never told the clients that he was one of the owners of the businesses in which he had invested , and the defendant never disclosed the 1% bribe commission he was receiving.

Kurland got rich on the money from his investments, Pellegrino said.

“Everything was fine until it all fell apart,” he said.

Kurland and his cronies invested tens of millions of dollars in a $200 million Ponzi scheme run by Long Island jeweler Gregory Altieri, Pellegrino said.

In order to cover those losses, Kurland and his accomplices turned to another scheme — a multi-million dollar investment in face masks and other PPE in the spring of 2020 that would be sold back to the state of California at a profit.

“Kurland convinced its largest lottery client to invest $19.5 million,” he said. But case officials told Kurland they would have to double that amount, so he simply took the winner’s money without permission, Pellegrino said.

“He took it directly from his lottery customer’s bank account, which he controlled,” Pellegrino said. The money was “never seen again”.

Kurland’s attorney argued, however, that he was as much a victim as his clients, tricked by Smookler and Russo into robbing him, lied about it and were caught on a wiretap mocking him. him as a dupe.

“There are real criminals in this case, and you’re going to meet some of them in this courtroom. But Jason is not one of them, ”said his lawyer, Tim Kasulis.

His business partners raided their cash advance company, Cheddar Capital, buying homes, yachts and luxury cars, and when investments started going south – because of COVID and the scheme from Ponzi – they steered him towards the PPE deal.

“You will hear Smookler and Russo making fun of Jason. You will see him calling them idiots… You will hear them calling him a duck, a chicken. You’ll hear them call it their prey,” Kasulis said of the wiretap evidence he plans to play.

Mangal, the Powerball winner, said he didn’t know how Cheddar Capital did business, or that Kurland owned it – and that Kurland never provided the information.

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Mangal said he would have viewed the investment differently if he had known about Kurland’s connection to Cheddar – and if he had known he was essentially taking a full stake in the business.

“We didn’t want to buy a business, own a business, we don’t want to do anything like that,” he said.

And in November 2019, he had a surprise: “The FBI came to our house.”

Kurland assured him everything was fine, Mangal said. But in February 2020, he received a letter from the Securities and Exchange Commission requesting information about Cheddar and another company he invested in.

Kasulis pointed out that Mangal had access to tax returns and other information that would explain how his money was invested.

When the defense attorney asked if it would have mattered if Kurland got 1% Cheddar, Mangal replied, “If I had known he was paid at the time, yes, that would have made a difference. . And if he was paid, it wasn’t in my best interest.

Trial testimony resumes Thursday.