Operated out of strip malls; 14 classic cars worth $100K each seized in raids
Authorities busted a multi-million dollar sports gambling ring Tuesday that started out in a Staten Island video store and grew into an online operation run out of Costa Rica, officials said.
More than a dozen raids were executed in three states Tuesday, leading to 28 arrests and the seizure of $5.7 million in assets — including a Staten Island strip mall, real estate and 14 classic cars worth $100,000 a pop.
The ring took bets on all sports, but it did some of its best business during the National Football League season, when it would rake in $100,000 per week on wagers, sources said.
Suspects were also accused of loansharking, authorities said. The ring, whose members had ties to New Jersey and Pennsylvania, took loans from a moneyman. They paid a "vig" — street slang for interest rate — of 4% per week, and up to 200% a year, authorities said.
In turn, the ring squeezed their bettors, wiping out some of the gamblers' life savings. One unlucky bettor, prosecutors said, owed $175,000 and paid $5,000 a week in interest alone.
"It had a devastating effect on our communities, burying people under insurmountable debt — debt that destroyed families and, in some cases, businesses," said Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan Jr.
In March 2009, a tipster dropped a dime on shady activities inside Monte's Video on Manor Rd. in Castleton Corners, where cash was taken for more than just copies of box-office hits, authorities said.
The NYPD's Vice Enforcement Division began investigating. The probe soon involved Donovan's office and New Jersey authorities.
Federal agents from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement were brought on board when investigators uncovered evidence of money laundering that reached down into Costa Rica.
Authorities said that the suspected ringleader, Joseph (J.J.) Stentella, 56, used ill-gotten gains to purchase the strip mall that housed the video store.
The group also operated a wire room on Sunset Ave. in Staten Island, authorities said.
Stentella supervised the work of "sheetholders," his minions who kept tabs on a group of bettors, collecting losses and distributing winnings, authorities said.
There were also collectors and a "banker," who organized the money laundering. Cash was shipped by FedEx to places in Florida and Arizona and then sent by courier to Costa Rica.
When the group felt heat from investigators, they closed the Staten Island wire room and moved it down to Costa Rica, authorities said.
They set up websites known as "Jerry's Worldwide Sports Book" and "Momo Sports Book."
Bettors then placed wagers online using screen names, and a member of the group ran everything from the Costa Rican wire room.
"The sports betting operation and the so-called video store are no longer open for business," NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
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Thanks to truesee for the tip.