Attorney who allegedly conned millions from big jackpot winners appears in three-week trial
By Kate Northrop
Trial is officially underway for the New York-based attorney who is charged by federal prosecutors with stealing millions of dollars from the dozens of significant lottery jackpot winners he advised.
Jason "Jay" Kurland, 48, was the lawyer many big lottery winners would go to for counsel on how to manage their newfound absurd amounts of wealth. Now, he's on trial for conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering.
Prosecutors estimated that Kurland stole more than $80 million from his clients after advising the winners to invest in businesses he owned as well as entities managed by co-conspirators. He was arrested in August 2020.
One of his victims won the record-breaking $1.5 billion Mega Millions lottery jackpot in 2018, the second-largest jackpot to-date and the largest payout to a single player ever.
Nandlall Mangal, who won a $245.6 million Powerball jackpot in 2018, was one of the winners duped by the attorney. On Wednesday, the first day of the trial, Mangal testified against Kurland, saying that the lawyer befriended him after he came into his lucky fortune and subsequently betrayed his trust.
"We had a large lump sum of money," Mangal testified. "We didn't know what's coming next. He made us feel very comfortable, very sure he could do this."
Kurland owned a merchant cash advance business, Cheddar Capital, which provides funds to other businesses in exchange for a percentage of their daily credit card income. He is accused of funneling the winners' money into his firm, but Mangal said he did not know how it did business or that Kurland was the owner, since he never volunteered the information.
Had he known Kurland's connection to Cheddar Capital and if he would be buying an ownership stake in the business, Mangal said he would have considered the investment differently.
"We didn't want to buy a company, to own a company, we don't want to do anything like that," the lottery winner said.
He discovered the truth when the FBI came knocking on his door in November 2019.
Kurland's defense lawyer, Tim Kasulis, argued that Mangal had full transparency and would have known how his money was being invested by looking at tax returns and other information at his disposal. Kasulis asked Mangal whether it would have mattered that Kurland was getting a 1% kickback from Cheddar.
"If I had known that he was getting paid back then, yes, it would have made a difference," Mangal responded. "And if he was getting paid, it wasn't because of my best interests."
In Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Pellegrino's opening statement, he claimed Kurland established a sense of legitimacy with his lottery clients by guiding them toward traditional investing funds.
"Then after gaining their trust, the defendant began to pitch his clients on certain alternative investments," Pellegrino continued. "To make sure 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 that he was invested in, and the defendant never disclosed the 1% kickback fee that he was receiving."
With that kickback money he was receiving from the lottery winner's investments, Kurland and fellow schemers were able to invest tens of millions into a $200 million Ponzi scheme run by Long Island jeweler Gregory Altieri, Pellegrino revealed.
"Everything was going great until it all fell apart," he stated.
To recoup their losses, the "lottery lawyer" and his cohorts concocted a deal to invest in face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) that they could resell to the state of California at the height of the pandemic.
"Kurland convinced his largest lottery client to invest $19.5 million," Pellegrino went on. However, the accomplices in charge of the deal told him that they needed double the amount, so he just stole the cash directly from the winner's account without permission, the money "never seen again."
"He took it right out of his lottery client's bank account, which he controlled," Pellegrino said.
Kurland's co-conspirators include former securities broker Frank Smookler, Frankie Russo, the son of a Colombo crime family capo, and Christopher Chierchio, who is supposedly a big-name player in a Genovese crime family but described as a Genovese family soldier in court documents. All three have pleaded guilty, with Smookler and Russo set to testify against Kurland.
Defense lawyer Kasulis is painting a different picture of the relationship between Kurland and his former accomplices. He argues that Kurland is the real victim in the case, having been lied to, stolen from, and mocked.
"There are real criminals in this case, and you are going to meet some of them in this courtroom, but Jason is not one of them," Kasulis claimed.
Through the funds made available by Cheddar Capital, his cohorts bought houses, yachts, and luxury cars. He alleges that Kurland went forward with the PPE deal because he was steered toward it by the co-conspirators after investments started going south due to COVID-19 and the Ponzi scheme.
Kurland's defense team also plans to play wiretap evidence, in which the co-conspirators can be heard mocking him.
"You'll hear Smookler and Russo mock Jason," Kasulis contended. "You'll hear them call him stupid... You'll hear them call him a duck, a chicken. You'll hear them call him their prey."
The three-week trial resumed Thursday in Brooklyn federal court.