Jury convicts conman on wire fraud, money laundering charges
By Kate Northrop
SALEM, Ore. — The famous — and still anonymous — winner of the record $1.4 billion Mega Millions lottery jackpot from South Carolina emerged from her legendary silence to deliver a testimony against New York "Lottery Lawyer" Jason "Jay" Kurland that explains how he stole $83 million from her in his schemes.
On July 26, the United States Department of Justice announced that a jury found Kurland, 48, guilty of defrauding his own lottery winner clients of more than $100 million. One of those familiar lottery winners, who lost $83 million to the conman, stepped back into the limelight to explain how he stole so much from her.
One morning, on Oct. 24, 2018, a woman in South Carolina woke up a billionaire. After scanning the numbers on her lottery ticket, she recalled feeling a mix of emotions — "astonishment, disbelief, joy, anxiety."
She got in her car and drove off for the now-famed KC Mart in Simpsonville to see if there would be any commotion. Maybe, if no one was there, surely she would be mistaken to think she had won, and she would drive back home to move on with her life.
But that was not the case.
"If no one was there, I would say, 'Okay, well, this was a disaster. We made a mistake,' and I'd drive home and all would be good," the winner said in her testimony. "But as we went by the convenience store, there was every media — there was helicopters, there was every piece of media, there was locals, you know, national. I so badly wanted to get out of there, I wanted to go under the seat. I became anxious."
More than four months after making her fateful lottery ticket purchase, the winner of the second-largest jackpot the world had ever seen stepped forward anonymously to claim a one-time payment of $877.78 million.
Kurland acted as the winner's spokesman and legal representation. At that point, he had already represented multiple lottery winners in the past, including a $254.2 million Connecticut Powerball winner, a $336.4 million Rhode Island Powerball winner, and a $121.6 million Delaware Powerball winner, but by far this would be his biggest client.
According to his firm's website at the time, he branded himself as a knowledgeable advisor who helped lottery winners navigate legalities and managing money. He has represented players from every corner of the nation, even appearing on national television during jackpot surges to offer advice to lottery players everywhere.
"The biggest mistake people make is doing it on their own," he said of winning a big prize in 2019. "All the horror stories you hear when people do it on their own."
Then, in August 2020, the self-titled "lottery lawyer" who advised dozens of significant jackpot winners across the country was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering, essentially robbing millions of dollars from his trusting clients.
The South Carolina winner was one of his largest clients and biggest victims. In Kurland's trial, she re-entered the public eye but allowed to testify under the pseudonym, Beth Smith, to preserve her identity.
Winning the second-largest lottery prize in the world was a blessing, she thought, but it came with a new set of complications. A woman in her 50s with grown children and marking 36 years of marriage with her husband, a lawyer, she was content with how her comfortable her life was.
When she visited the KC Mart convenience store the morning after the fateful drawing, she felt that people were looking at her and somehow knew who she was. After that experience, she knew nothing was more important than securing her family's safety and anonymity.
So for the time being, she stashed the ticket in a safety deposit box and brainstormed the next steps with her husband.
"We considered attorneys. We considered financial advisors. We considered accountants," she recalled. "We considered, you know, investment firms — that kind of thing."
Low and behold, they saw Kurland appearing on television talking about the lottery jackpot they had just won. The self-proclaimed title "Lottery Lawyer" felt gimmicky, but with his track record of representing other lottery winners plus the trustworthy appeal of a Long Island family man who would contractually be bound to keep their confidences, they were swayed.
"He was on, you know, the morning shows and the like, and it looked like he certainly knew about lottery — he had a specialty in lottery winners," "Beth Smith" explained. "And, you know, we looked online and he seemed very capable."
Her husband, given the name "Steve" for the sake of preserving his anonymity in the trial, called Kurland from a burner phone in December 2018 and arranged a meeting in Las Vegas without revealing their names.
All that mattered to them was that Kurland would be able to help them claim their prize and help distribute the money to charities of their choosing without revealing who they are, but little did they know that his management of their finances would turn into illegal meddling.
On March 4, 2019, the "Smiths" claimed their prize in a heavily orchestrated series of steps. First, the couple met Kurland in Columbia, South Carolina, where a South Carolina Lottery security team picked them up and escorted them to an underground garage at the city's lottery office. Security cameras were disabled, and windows were covered. The lottery winners presented the $1.5 billion winning ticket, and Kurland was paid the $200,000 flat fee for his services.
Then, Kurland came forward to the media with information the country was yearning for — how and where the ticket was purchased, who the winners were, and what they wanted to do with the money.
Kurland publicly informed news outlets that the winners wanted to donate to various charities, although he did not say how much would go to each. Behind the scenes, however, he was setting his clients up for what they thought was financial success.
"We were very adamant that we wanted this to be invested in a very conservative way because my husband and I believed this was — this blessing was going to be provided — to my family and generate — and we would have it generationally," "Beth" related. "So, we didn't need to take any, any risk in doing that."
Kurland began by opening an account at Bank Leumi USA, a New York-based bank now known as Valley Bank, which would be distributed to four other U.S.-based banks. Two housed $100 million each, while the other two housed $50 million each. In-house money managers were to supervise the investments.
The only thing is, the accounts were being set up in Kurland's name to protect the "Smiths'" anonymity.
"He had access to it. We did not. He set it up as if it was, basically, his account," "Beth" said.
The "Smiths" did not have access to bank statements or balance information. They were essentially relying on Kurland for any information they might have needed. They paid him a $50,000 monthly fee for him to continue managing the accounts.
The services the "Smiths" were paying for included favors and luxuries that Kurland provided, such as helping "Steve" go to the Master's Tournament, arranging for "Beth's" sister and brother-in-law to go to the Kentucky Derby, and even getting "Steve" an autographed photo of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, a Notre Dame football legend.
Whether they were true favors or deals complimentary of his services, in all likelihood, they were methods to pull the wool over eyes to conceal something else that was going on in the background.
This is where Cheddar Capital and JBMML come into play — two businesses that Kurland had ties to. Both companies provide funds to other businesses in exchange for a percentage of their daily credit card income.
It is the same Cheddar Capital that Nandlall Mangal, a $245.6 million Powerball winner, said Kurland was pressuring him to invest in.
Kurland did not divulge his connection to the company, nor was he forthright about how his money would be invested. Mangal said, had he known that he would be buying an ownership stake in the business, he would have considered the investment differently.
At an interest rate of 9%, the "Smiths" would invest $10 million in Cheddar Capital and $20 million in JBMML, after which the interest would go to a family fund called Cedar Ridge Partnership to be allocated to ten family members as a monthly income of $12,500 per person.
He came to them with several other investment deals he said other lottery winners had success with — from a diamond merchant to thoroughbred race horses.
He also persuaded them to invest $19.5 million in a company that would resell personal protective equipment (PPE) to the state of California, but he must have forgotten to mention the part about how it was a plan to recoup losses from a $200 million Ponzi scheme that had gone sour.
Regardless, the "Smiths" unknowingly went along with the "Lottery Lawyer's" suggestions, having bought a new house in South Carolina, another in a different state, and then one more outside the U.S. They spent tens of millions on other real estate transactions, including buying a hotel. But something started to seem off.
"The payments [to family members] were very irregular," "Beth" revealed. "Sometimes it would go direct from the company to my family member, Cheddar Capital, and JBMML. They were not the amounts of monies that we were, you know, guaranteed in these documents and it was very concerning. Terribly concerning."
Turns out, the diamond merchant she was encouraged to invest in was Gregory Altieri, a Long Island jeweler who she found out was being investigated after the FBI reached out to her for more information. He was arrested, but Kurland soothed her worries that something was wrong.
In August 2020, Kurland three co-conspirators who were involved in deals to do with defrauding the "Smiths" and other lottery winners were arrested.
Kurland's arrest immediately meant two very concerning things — he was somehow conning the "Smiths," and they had no idea whether her money was actually in her control.
"I didn't even know who the wealth investors — the wealth advisors were," "Beth" said. "You don't just call the 800 number and, you know, be talking to someone."
With Kurland in jail, she had no way to access her money or information regarding her account. She also feared that, with Kurland out of reach, he would go rogue and be able to access her money at his own will.
"I wanted, you know, a stop put to that," she continued.
Each of the banks housing her money had their own hoops to jump through for her to prove that the money was really hers. To begin the process, she had to acquire a certified copy of the winning lottery ticket. She contacted the South Carolina Lottery, and the commissioner drove it over to her house.
"We were very grateful," she remarked.
During the process, she discovered that Kurland had failed to disclose just how much money he had taken from her, from a 1% finders fee on investments he procured and that he had personal ties to Cheddar Capital and JBMML that resulted in kickbacks he would then use to fund other schemes. He also bought three racehorses, not two.
What was most concerning was that he had straight up stolen a chunk of money from her account.
"Kurland convinced his largest lottery client to invest $19.5 million," Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Pellegrino said in court. However, the accomplices in charge of the [PPE] 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 went on.
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 pleaded guilty. Through the funds made available by Cheddar Capital, his cohorts bought houses, yachts, and luxury cars.
Kurland pleaded not guilty, hoping to convince the jury that he was under the influence of his co-conspirators, who he claims manipulated him and mocked him behind closed doors.
On Tues., July 26, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Kurland's conviction after a Brooklyn, New York jury unanimously convicted Kurland of five counts of wire fraud, honest services wire fraud, and money laundering. It is estimated that he stole over $100 million from three different lottery winners.
"Jason Kurland marketed himself to the public as the leading lottery lawyer in the country and was successful in recruiting as clients some of the biggest lottery winners in U.S. history," the Department's statement reads. "But then he used his position as a lawyer—a profession founded on duties of honesty and loyalty—to steer his clients to invest millions of dollars in companies that he secretly owned and took illegal kickbacks based on his clients' investments without their knowledge. Ultimately, the defendant and his co-conspirators lined their own pockets while his clients suffered massive losses from their crimes."
"Do you think if you just asked better questions in this case, that these things wouldn't have happened?" a prosecutor asked "Beth."
"Oh, I don't believe that at all. I think they would have happened, regardless of the number of questions I asked," she replied.