NEW YORK (AP) — A wealthy New York City art world impresario pleaded guilty on Tuesday to running an illegal sports betting business that was exposed by an investigation of a sprawling money-laundering scheme by Russian-American organized crime enterprises.
Hillel "Helly" Nahmad had faced charges of racketeering, money laundering and fraud. But those counts were dropped in exchange for pleading guilty to a lesser illegal gambling charge and for agreeing to pay a $6.4 million judgment.
"Judge, this all started as a group of friends betting on sports events," Nahmad said in federal court in Manhattan. "But I recognize that I crossed a line, and I apologize to the court and my family."
He added: "It started as a hobby, but unfortunately it became a business."
Nahmad, 35, faces up to 18 months behind bars at sentencing on March 16, but his lawyers said they will argue he has an otherwise clean record and deserves no time. They also said the guilty plea will have no impact on the operation of his gallery on Madison Avenue — a seller of works by Chagall, Dali, Degas, Monet, Matisse and Warhol.
The defendant was among more than 30 people charged earlier this year with having roles in the scheme to launder at least $100 million in illegal gambling proceeds through hundreds of bank accounts and shell companies in Cyprus and the United States.
The gambling ring catered mostly to super-rich bettors in Russia. But it also had tentacles in New York City, where it ran illegal card games that attracted professional athletes, film stars and business executives, prosecutors said. Some of the defendants are professional poker players.
Nahmad comes from an art-dealing clan whose collection includes 300 Picassos worth $900 million, according to Forbes. He's also known for socializing with Hollywood luminaries and sitting courtside at New York Knicks basketball games.
Prosecutors had alleged that, along with laundering tens of millions of dollars, Nahmad committed fraud by trying to sell a piece of art for $300,000 that was worth at least $50,000 less. The judgment requires him to turn over the painting to the government.