New York-based billionaire art dealer Hillel "Helly" Nahmad admitted last week to running a $100-million gambling ring that entertained the likes of Wall Street financiers, sports figures, and A-list movie stars from Leonardo diCaprio to Matt Damon.
Nahmad, 35, pleaded guilty in a Manhattan district court to operating a gambling business. He agreed to pay $6,427,000 and to forfeit a Raoul Dufy painting titled “Carnaval à Nice, 1937,” worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. His plea bargain with prosecutors dropped other charges, such as money laundering, racketeering, and conspiracy, that could have landed him in prison for up to 92 years. He now faces up to five years behind bars.
Worth an estimated $3 billion by The New York Times, Nahmad is part of the art-dealing family known for their top-tier collection of Impressionist and Modernist art.
Nahmad says he started with a group of friends "betting on sports games." He worked with Russian organized crime and in April, Nahmad was indicted with 34 others for their roles in two related gambling and bookmaking rings accused of running illegal high-stakes online gambling, as well as underground poker games.
They took in tens of millions of dollars through illegal websites in the U.S. and laundered $100 million through businesses from plumbing to real estate and car repair, according to the indictment.
Russian Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov is at the top of the indictment. He is wanted by Interpol and was previously indicted for allegedly bribing ice-skating judges at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Another named in the indictment sent mixed martial arts fighters to collect debts.
Nahmad is scheduled to be sentenced on March 19.