Illegal Florida Sports Gambling and Money Laundering Ring Receives Sentencing
Michele Lasso, a 30 year old Panamanian who had been living in Florida, was given probation for money laundering for an illegal sports betting operation which covered multiple states. In all, Ms. Lasso is thought to have laundered $8 million in cash for the sports gambling ring.
After being caught, Michele Lasso spent the past year in home confinement. The new mother helped authorities recover $7 million from foreign banks, which explains the leniant probation sentence she received.
Still, U.S. District Court Judge Mae D’Agostino says Lasso’s motive was greed. Immigration officials were waiting for Michele Lasso outside Judge D’Agostino’s court in Albany, New York. They detained the woman and deported her back to Panama.
Joint Task Force Busted the Gambling Ring
The illegal Internet websites ran by Philip Gurian allowed people in California, Nevada, Texas, Florida, Indiana, and Washington DC to make wagers. According to Lasso-Barraza, she would send the money wagered into offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands, Andorra, and Panama. She also set up sham entities, then set up bank accounts in the name of those sham entities.
A joint investigation eventually located the source of the illegal gambling ring. The joint investigation was initiated by the Albany County Sheriff’s Office in New York, but it eventually was joined by the FBI, the IRS Criminal Investigation Unit, the Broward County Money Laundering Task Force, the Saratoga District Attorney’s Office, and the Albany County District Attorney’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Sharpe.
Lasso’s Attorney Blames Culture Shock
Ms. Lasso’s attorney, William Shepherd, tried to put Lasso crimes in context by stating that managing bank accounts in various countries, even when they involve sports betting, is not considered illegal in Panama. There, the activities she was involved in are common, according to Mr. Shepherd.
The case had its dramatic moments. Michele Lasso, who is 30 and holds a master’s degree in financial markets, wept in court as she revealed she’s the married mother of a 6 month old baby. The baby was born during her time in home confinement.
Ring Labeled a “Sprawling Illegal Gambling Operation”
The sports gambling ring was described by the FBI as a sophisticated Internet gambling ring. It had global reach, and it appears Michele Lasso was a key figure in its activities. She was described as controlling wire transfers, credit cards transactions, and bank accounts.
The U.S. Attorney who handled the case, Richard S. Hartunian, agreed that the Panamanian woman was a key figure in the plan’s execution. Hartunian said, “Another defendant, Michele Lasso-Barraza, has now admitted to her role in laundering $8 million generated by a sprawling illegal gambling operation which used the Internet, phony corporations, and offshore accounts.”
IRS Agent Says Illegal Gaming Weakens the USA
IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent Toni Weintraub says this case involves more than wagering. Weintraub said, “International money laundering is not the victimless crime that some may think it is. Money laundering, including the laundering of illegal gambling proceeds, facilitates the underground, untaxed economy, which, in turn, harms our nation’s strength.”
Ringleader’s Sentencing Is on April 15
The convicted ringleader of the illegal sports gambling operation is Philip Gurian. Mr. Gurian is a 52 year old redisent of Boca Raton, Florida. He awaits sentencing on April 15, 2014.
In the case, Philip Gurian has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder money. His plea might gain him a lesser sentence, but he is likely to face significant prison time. Michele Lasso’s cooperation made a conviction of Mr. Gurian, her former boss, all but certain.
Molly Bloom Illegal Poker Ring
This crime ring involves small numbers compared to the illegal gambling ring which was prosecuted in New York state late in 2013. In that case, Molly Bloom the “Poker Princess” was charged with running a $100 million illegal poker game involving A-list celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey McGuire, sports superstars like Alex Rodriguez, and CEOs like Brad Ruderman and Alec Gores.
Those gambling sessions took place in Los Angeles and Manhattan and involved over 10 times the amount of money in the Florida sports betting case. Though the Molly Bloom scandal first came to light in 2011, her case were only prosecuted in a Manhattan Federal Court in December of 2013.
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