NEW YORK – Nearly three dozen people were charged Tuesday in what investigators said was a Russian organized crime operation that included illegal, high-stakes poker games for the rich and famous and threats of violence to make sure customers paid their debts.
Federal authorities in New York City weren’t naming names but said the poker players included pro athletes, Hollywood celebrities and Wall Street executives. None of them were charged.
The money-laundering investigation led to arrests Tuesday in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere around the country. There also were FBI raids at a $6 million apartment in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and a prestigious Madison Avenue art gallery owned by two of the defendants.
George Venizelos, head of the New York FBI office, said the charges against 34 individuals demonstrate the scope and reach of Russian organized crime.
He added: The defendants are alleged to have handled untold millions in illegal wagers placed by millionaires and billionaires, laundered millions, and in some cases are multimillionaires. Crime pays only until you are arrested and prosecuted.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said proceeds from the high-stakes illegal poker games and online gambling were allegedly funneled to organized crime overseas.
Among those named in an indictment filed in federal court was a wealthy Russian fugitive, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. He was already under indictment in a separate U.S. case accusing him of bribing Olympic figure skating judges at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
In a two-month period beginning in late 2011, the money-laundering ring paid Tokhtakhounov $20 million in illegal proceeds, the indictment said.
Along with the illegal poker games, the ring operated an international gambling business that catered to oligarchs residing in the former Soviet Union and throughout the world, the indictment said.
Prosecutors alleged proceeds were laundered through shell companies in Cyprus and the United States by a criminal enterprise with ties to Russia and Ukraine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Harris Fischman told a U.S. magistrate judge in Manhattan that Vadim Trincher, 52, directed much of the international racketeering enterprise from his $5 million apartment at Trump Tower.
From his apartment he oversaw what must have been the world’s largest sports book, Fischman said.