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Top NY art dealer, suspected Russian mob boss indicted on gambling charges

A police officer stands outside the Helly Nahmad Gallery on the Upper East Side in New York, April 16, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
A police officer stands outside the Helly Nahmad Gallery on the Upper East Side in New York, April 16, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal authorities have charged a prominent New York art dealer and one of Russia's top reputed mobsters with operating high-stakes gambling rings in New York and Los Angeles that catered to billionaires, bank executives, movie stars and professional athletes.

Among 34 people indicted on Tuesday are suspected Russian organized crime figure Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, who was charged in 2002 with plotting to rig sports events at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Tokhtakhounov remains outside of the United States, and that case has not gone to trial.

Also charged was Hillel "Helly" Nahmad, a leading international art dealer and the owner of an exclusive art gallery that bears his name inside Midtown Manhattan's posh Carlyle Hotel.

The gallery was raided on Tuesday as part of the investigation, authorities said.

According to an 83-page indictment unsealed on Tuesday, Tokhtakhounov ran a sports-betting ring that catered to Russian oligarchs in the former Soviet Union, and laundered proceeds through Cyprus banks to the United States.

A second, related operation in New York and Los Angeles allegedly served wealthy U.S. clients including Hollywood celebrities, Wall Street executives and professional athletes, authorities said.

That operation was allegedly run by Nahmad, who was expected to surrender on Tuesday in Los Angeles, a spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

Tokhtakhounov, according to court documents, used his reputation as a mobster to "resolve disputes with clients of high-stakes illegal gambling operation with implicit and sometimes explicit threats of violence and economic harm."

INDICTED IN 2002

Tokhtakhounov was indicted by federal authorities in New York in 2002 on charges that he plotted to rig the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics pairs figure skating and ice dancing competitions.

He was arrested that year in Italy, whose highest appeals court ruled in 2003 against extraditing him to the United States. He was released by the Italian court.

According to court papers, Tokhtakhounov earned $10 million in 2011 alone as head of the gambling ring.

He is known in Russia as a "vory v zakone," or a "vor," a Russian term that translates to "Thief-in-Law" and refers to the highest echelon of Russian organized crime figures, according to prosecutors.

A number of defendants in the case, of whom 30 were in custody, were expected to appear in federal court in Manhattan later on Tuesday.

Michael Fineman, an attorney for defendant Vadim Trincher, 52, declined to comment after court.

Dana Cole, an attorney for Molly Bloom, who was arrested in Los Angeles and faces bookmaking charges only, said a judge released his client on Tuesday afternoon into the custody of her mother. She is scheduled to appear again in a New York federal courtroom on Friday.

Cole said that while he did not want to "minimize the seriousness" of the charges, "this is not the crime of the century."

Tokhtakhounov and three other indicted suspects - Abraham Mosseri, Donald McCalmont, and William Edler - remain at large and are wanted by federal officials, said Kelly Langmesser, a spokesman for the New York field office of the FBI.

None of the rich and famous clients of the alleged ring were charged or named by authorities on Tuesday. A person who answered the phone at the Nahmad Gallery in New York declined to comment on the indictments.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Mohamad Zargham)

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