A Brief Look at Crime 04/16 – 04/22

California poker pro accused of ripping off investors in suspected Super Bowl, World Cup ticket-flipping.

A federal grand jury has indicted an Orange County poker pro for allegedly bilking investors out of more than $6 million in a suspected Super Bowl and World Cup ticket-flipping scam. The indictment charges Seyed Reza Ali Fazeli, 49, of Aliso Viejo with two felony counts of wire fraud tied to a Las Vegas-based ticket business that Fazeli ran named Summit Entertainment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday. According to the indictment, Fazeli from May 2016 through at least May 2017 raised $6.2 million from investors in Orange County, Houston and Las Vegas by promising to purchase tickets to the 2017 Super Bowl and the 2018 World Cup and then resell them at a “substantial profit.” “A large portion of investor funds were used for the personal benefit of Fazeli, including millions spent at Las Vegas casinos,” FBI Special Agent B.C. Mason wrote in an affidavit filed with the court. Fazeli was arrested on Feb. 14 following an FBI investigation. During a court hearing the next day, he was released on a $120,000 bond. He is scheduled to return to court for an arraignment on March 26.

Slate Belt woman charged in $400,000 fraud says, ‘I hate money and I hate gambling’

The former caretaker of a Slate Belt shooting club is accused of stealing more than $400,000 from the organization, its members and an insurance company through a variety of scams that allegedly fed a gambling addiction. Facing arraignment Thursday on 26 theft-related charges, Lisa A. Shafer came to court in Bangor without a lawyer, chatting outside the hearing with investigators and telling them she planned to plead guilty. “I’m not denying any charges,” Shafer told District Judge Alicia Zito inside the courtroom. “I’m not running away from any charges.” Police said the thefts spanned from 2012 to 2016 and centered around the Pocono Slate Belt Shooting Association in Upper Mount Bethel Township, a clay trap club on Lake Minsi Drive. Though the 50-year-old Wind Gap woman said she hoped to remain free until her case was resolved, she left in handcuffs after Zito set bail at $50,000. The judge noted that most of the alleged victims are seniors. “The list is quite expansive,” Zito told Shafer. “These sort of white-collar crimes, they hit close to home sometimes.” “She admitted she was a thief and would do anything it took to get money,” the affidavit said. Police said Shafer was a frequent gambler at Mount Airy Casino and Resort. In court to Zito, Shafer said she has been twice institutionalized for her gambling problem, and remains in counseling. “I hate money and I hate gambling,” Shafer said.

Women stole more than $800K from elderly victim

Two women who posed as an elderly woman’s caregiver and interior decorator, respectively, are accused of embezzling almost $600,000 from the victim between 2013 and 2017. Sandra Pelkey, 71, and Mary Jeannie Benedetto, 60, both of Bushnell Street, Plymouth, and described as mother and daughter in court documents, are each charged with first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny. While the period from 2013-17 includes the alleged theft of $600,000, over a 10-year period Pelkey and Benedetto allegedly cashed more than $800,000 in checks made payable to them from the woman’s account, using multiple bank accounts to hide the funds they allegedly stole from the elderly woman, according to the arrest warrant. During the course of the investigation, it was revealed Benedetto had a history of gambling at Mohegan Sun Casino, losing approximately $22,039 prior to meeting the woman, the warrant stated. It was confirmed Benedetto’s casino visits became more frequent after establishing a relationship with the woman, even cashing checks from the woman’s accounts. Overall, Benedetto has gambled more than $740,000 between 2007 to 2017.

Prosecutor’s aide says she gambled with DA’s campaign funds

A longtime aide to the top prosecutor in Las Vegas blamed a gambling habit for taking nearly $42,000 from her boss’s campaign and was permitted to repay the money instead of facing criminal charges. Audrie Locke, the community liaison and spokeswoman for Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal that she wrote checks to herself in 2014 after taking the campaign’s checkbook from his office. Locke told the newspaper she had financial troubles at the time because of her addiction to video poker and was not well emotionally because her mother, three friends and two dogs had died. “I have a gambling problem . So there’s a lot of money issues that come with that, and that’s what happened,” she said. “The gambling spiraled. And if you talk to anybody who’s ever had a gambling problem, the first challenge that they have is recovering financially.”

Sky Bet Fined £1 Million for Failing Self-Excluded Gamblers

Online gambling company Sky Bet has accepted a £1 million ($1.4 million) fine from the UK Gambling Commission for allowing hundreds of self-excluded gamblers to continue betting, while inadvertently sending promotional texts, emails and push notifications to around 50,000 more. The fine comes just months after Sky Bet chief Richard Flint called on the betting industry to address its “image problem” and to promote safer gambling the through the advancement of self-help tools and increased intervention with customers who may be at risk. “The industry must first recognise it has an issue,” Flint told an audience at the International Casino Exhibition in February. “And I don’t just mean a PR or reputational issue. I mean a genuine, evidence-based subject that it must play its part in addressing.” But the UKGC found that 736 self-excluded Sky Bet customers had been able to open and use duplicate accounts. Thousands more who had asked to ban themselves from using Sky Bet’s betting services continued to receive marketing urging them to bet via an app, due to a segregation failure in the company’s databases. A further 36,748 did not have the balance of their funds with SkyBet returned to them upon closing their accounts.

Feds Seize $10.1M in ‘Illegal Gambling’ Money from Pojoaque Pueblo Tribe of New Mexico

The US Department of Justice on Friday filed forfeiture proceedings in a federal court to seize $10.1 million from a bank account linked to the Pojoaque Pueblo tribal gaming operator in New Mexico. The DOJ said it deemed the money to be the proceeds of illegal gambling. It’s the latest twist in the longstanding fight between the tribe and the State of New Mexico, which kicked off in 2014 when the tribe refused to sign a new compact. Its original gambling agreement, signed in 2005, gave the state an 8 percent share of gross gambling revenue and was due to expire in 2015. Negotiations over a new revenue sharing agreement broke down when the tribe accused the state government of unreasonably hiking up its cut, to 9 percent. New Mexico’s other tribal operators reluctantly agreed to these terms, but the Pojoaque Pueblos dug in their heels. The tribe argued for the right to negotiate a new compact with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, rather than the state. 

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