A Brief Look at Crime 11/14-11/20

Buffalo poker player pleads guilty in $31 million debt collection fraud case

The owner and CEO of a Buffalo debt collection firm pleaded guilty in federal court in New York Tuesday to two felony charges in connection with a scheme that coerced thousands of victims nationwide into overpaying their debts by at least $31 million. Thomas is a professional poker player who, as of a year ago, had $510,885 in tournament earnings as well as two World Series of Poker gold rings, according to the Poker News website. “As he admitted today, Travell Thomas ran a massive, fraudulent debt collection scheme through which he and his cohorts stole over $31 million from his vulnerable victims,” said Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Thomas instructed his debt collectors to threaten, intimidate and lie to their victims by overstating their debts and making false claims about what would happen to them if they didn’t pay up.”

More than $1M seized after illegal game room arrests 

Authorities in Houston say they’ve seized more than $1 million after shutting down an illegal game room. The Harris County District Attorney’s office says the game room’s owner, 59-year-old Chang Choi, was arrested Friday after a months-long investigation. Choi was charged with engaging in organized crime. Court records did not list an attorney for Choi. Two others were also arrested and charged with engaging in organized crime. Police say the business does have a valid game room license, but it’s not licensed for gambling. The investigation is part of a larger effort in the county to regulate game rooms. Police say they bust game rooms about once a week, but they rarely see this much money associated with one business.

Man Charged With Embezzling More Than $124,000 from Menomonee Falls Business

A Wauzeka man has been charged after police say he embezzled more than $124,000 from a Menomonee Falls construction business. James Denk, 38, has been charged with theft in a business setting and faces up to five years behind bars if he is convicted. According to Denk’s criminal complaint, the owners of Neu’s Building Center, N95 W16915 Falls Parkway in Menomonee Falls, reported to police that Denk was responsible for embezzling approximately $124,150 from the business between October 2014 and February 2016. According to his criminal complaint, company officials began to look into Denk’s behavior and pulled till reports for cash deposits. When they did, they found a pattern of shorted deposits that were created by Denk, and then turned over to a secondary employee for a deposit at the bank. Further investigation into Denk’s dealings revealed that Denk manipulated the till reports on several occasions by adjusting the cash deposit amount on the till reports. According to the criminal complaint, online gambling activity was also noted on Denk’s former computer.

Beaver County tax collector who stole, gambled away $1M to serve 3 years in prison 

A former constable from Beaver County will spend three years and one month in prison for stealing more than $1 million from Baden and the Ambridge Area School District while he was acting as their tax collector. Keith Kristek, 57, of Baden admitted in June that, while acting as a deputy tax collector, he pocketed money that was supposed to pay for textbooks, teacher salaries and road paving and gambled most of it away. He pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of filing a palse tax return. U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab also sentenced him to three years of probation and ordered him to pay $1 million in restitution to the school district and $46,000 to the borough.

Ex-Treasurer Sentenced for Embezzling $125,000 from Search and Rescue Group

An Ohio man who authorities said embezzled more than $125,000 from a Kensington, Connecticut non-profit that uses search and rescue dogs to look for missing people was sentenced to home confinement and probation. Recck, a former New Britain resident, was the treasurer for Connecticut Canine Search and Rescue, Inc., a volunteer-based organization that searches for and rescues missing and lost people in the United States by using trained search and rescue dogs, according to federal authorities. In his role, Recck had access to the non-profit’s bank accounts and he was accused of transferring more than $125,000 from the non-profit’s accounts to his own for gambling and personal expenses between January 2008 and August 2012, according to officials, who said he also never reported the stolen funds on his federal tax returns. Recck pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return and was ordered to pay $125,649.77 in restitution, as well as back taxes, penalties and interest for the 2008 through 2012 tax years.

Columbus man pleads guilty to dog fighting conspiracy charges 

A Columbus man pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to two charges related to a dog fighting ring found on the west side of the city in April. Charles A. Granberry, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiring to participate in a dog fighting ring, and to illegally possessing a firearm. Dozens of dogs were seized at five different Columbus homes, back in April, and several people were arrested. Authorities said Granberry is just the tip of the iceberg, conspiring with others in an interstate operation to train, fight and sell dogs that were also used for gambling. In April, 20 pit bull terriers were taken out of a house on Clarendon venue. In one backyard, investigators found car axles embedded in the ground with heavy chains to hold dogs in place. Other devices were used to train them to fight. “The biggest one that garnished the most attention is the treadmills that they strapped the dogs onto, strapped the collar to, sometimes the dog can run for hours on it,” said Elysse Rathbone, a Humane Agent for the Capital Area Humane Society. 

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