Busted illegal online gambling ring: Defendants have ties to organized crime, past gambling arrests

Las Vegas Metro Police Department

Eight people from the Las Vegas area are among those arrested in a New York-based probe into what authorities say is a nationwide illegal sports betting ring with ties to organized crime. Booking photos from the Clark County Detention Center for seven of those arrested in Las Vegas have been released by Metro Police. Pictured are, top row from left: Kelly Rae Barsel, Jerry Martin Branca and Michael Colbert; bottom row from left, Steven Santo Diano, Brandt Alan England, Joseph David Paulk and Paul Sexton. Not pictured is Ian W. Mandel.

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Race and sports book director Mike Colbert poses with a wireless tablet at the M Resort on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010. Customers with accounts can use the tablet to place bets without standing in line. The sports book also has "In-Running" wagering during games.

The people arrested last week in an alleged illegal Internet gambling ring aren’t household names locally, but many are well-known in sports wagering and poker — and law enforcement — circles.

The arrests and searches of suspects’ homes Oct. 24 in Las Vegas, California, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the latest in a series of gambling crackdowns that span many decades and often have ties to shadowy gambling operations overseas, particularly in Costa Rica.

The latest sweep offers a few new twists: the alleged involvement of a now-fired Cantor Gaming sports book vice president in Las Vegas and the ring’s apparent use of the reputable Pinnacle Sports offshore sports gambling website.

Prosecutors say Pinnacle Sports served as a high-tech “wire room" where bettors and their agents placed wagers and maintained accounts.

Pinnacle Sports says it is based in the Caribbean island of Curacao off the coast of Venezuela, but at least one other website named in last week’s bust appears to be operating out of Costa Rica.

As the case continues to unfold, gaming industry officials and sports bettors will be looking for answers to several questions:

• How the former Cantor Gaming vice president, Mike Colbert, allegedly became connected to the ring, when that happened and why his conduct wasn’t detected by the company or the Nevada regulators who licensed him.

• Whether three men in Las Vegas and California actually own Pinnacle Sports, as prosecutors claim.

• How the Channel Islands-based Alderney Gambling Control Commission, a respected licensor of Internet gambling sites and a licensor of Pinnacle Sports, may have missed what prosecutors allege: that money from U.S. sports gamblers was illegally routed through Pinnacle and other websites.

What has emerged so far are details about those arrested:

• Colbert, 32, who lives in the Mountain's Edge area of Las Vegas, is accused by New York prosecutors of being a “money collector/agent" who helped build a clientele of gamblers for the ring and collected or paid out money owed to them.

Among the defendants, Colbert has among the thinnest public records paper trail, which isn't surprising since gambling arrests or similar trouble would likely have prevented him from gaining a Nevada gaming license. Cantor says its probe of Colbert after his arrest found nothing that indicated he was using Cantor’s system or accounts for wrongdoing.

Colbert studied economics and business at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania from 1998 to 2002, according to an online profile, and he joined Cantor Gaming in 2008, where he worked until his arrest last week.

Colbert had been quoted in a Vegas Seven story prior to his arrest saying sports betting should be legalized outside of Nevada. He pointed out that many Americans bet with offshore sites or illegal bookmakers.

John Lienert, an attorney in Pittsburgh familiar with Colbert, wrote in a blog post that he was shocked at Colbert’s arrest and said Colbert is a "local legend" after a standout high school basketball career.

"Mike knew what he was doing was against the law," Lienert wrote. "And he continued to do it anyway."

• Brandt England, 46, who lives in the Lakes area of Las Vegas, is accused of being an owner of Pinnacle Sports and a bookmaker for the ring that allegedly earned more than $50 million in profits over an 18-month period.

England is known in Las Vegas as a gambler and investor with plenty of experience dealing with the court system.

In 2007 and 2008, England and two other Las Vegans were among more than 40 people charged or implicated in a gambling operation linked to a credit card processing system for a Costa Rica betting website. Records show the ring operated mainly through Phoenix-area bars, but the investigation appeared to involve wiretaps and financial transactions in Las Vegas and other cities outside Arizona.

England faced two counts of benefiting from gambling and one count of promoting gambling. He pleaded guilty to one count of benefiting from gambling; the other two charges were dropped.

England was sentenced to 30 days of probation, Maricopa County records show.

The case attracted attention in Las Vegas because after Metro Police raided the local suspects’ properties, attorneys for England and his co-defendants sued to recover cash and property they claimed had been seized and wrongly transferred to Phoenix without court authorization. Maricopa County deputies eventually returned to England $252,000 in cash and a valuable coin collection.

In an unrelated case, England and others were sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission in Pittsburgh in 2008 over allegations they had profited by trading stock based on insider information. England denied wrongdoing but settled the case by agreeing to pay $121,000 to the government to cover his stock trading profits, a civil penalty and interest.

In that lawsuit, the SEC said England owned a "gentlemen’s club," an apparent reference to a swingers club named Hide N Seek that operated in the 2000s at 3084 Highland Drive in Las Vegas.

• Stanley Tomchin, 67, known as an expert gambler, also is accused of being an owner of Pinnacle Sports and a bookmaker in the ring.

He was profiled in the 2002 Huntington Press book “Gambling Wizards: Conversations with the World’s Greatest Gamblers." He worked in the early 1980s with legendary gambler Bill Walters' Computer Group, known for something unheard of at the time: using computer programs to forecast winners and point spreads.

Tomchin owns a home in Montecito, Calif., near Santa Barbara, and a condominium at Turnberry Place in Las Vegas.

• George Molsbarger, 66, of Santa Monica, Calif., is alleged by prosecutors to be a third owner of Pinnacle Sports and another bookmaker in the operation taken down last week. He also appears to be Facebook friends with England.

• Defendants Paul Sexton, 29, of Henderson and Steven Diano, 48, of western Las Vegas are professional poker players who have competed in the World Series of Poker, according to poker news websites.

Sexton is known as a Full Tilt Poker "red team pro," meaning he was affiliated with Full Tilt as a player. In 2007, he won $2,160 in an online Full Tilt poker tournament, according to cardplayer.com. That was before Full Tilt and other online poker sites were shut down by the U.S. Justice Department on "Black Friday" in April 2011. Prosecutors say Sexton was one of the ring's money collectors.

Diano, an alleged bookmaker, is known as a longtime gambler. Records show that in 1999, he and a brother received free rooms in exchange for their gambling at the Colonial Casino in Costa Rica. Besides playing table games, Diano was known to casinos as a sports bettor who sometimes wagered remotely with a telephone account.

• Kelly Barsel, 42, of Summerlin, also is alleged to be a bookmaker. Barsel is a professional photographer and owner of Kelly Barsel Photography. The indictment suggests she has worked with the gambling ring before and after the September 2011 death of her husband, Alex G. Barsel, 42, in San Jose, Costa Rica. Local records didn’t indicate the cause of his death or what he was doing in Costa Rica. Kelly Barsel couldn’t be reached for comment.

• John L. Tognino, 70, of the Bronx, N.Y., is accused of being a bookmaker. He appears to be the same John Louis Tognino who in 1998 was one of four people indicted in Las Vegas on money laundering charges related to sports wagering. The case eventually was dismissed.

• Vincent Basciano Jr., 31, of the Bronx also is accused of being a bookmaker. He is the son of Bonanno family member Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, who is in prison for murder, according to New York media reports.

• Other alleged bookmakers include Jerald Branca, 67, of western Las Vegas; Joseph Paulk, 35, who has a Strip condominium address in Las Vegas; Andrew Belardino, 50, of Allentown, N.J.; Michael Duong, 36, of Manalapan, N.J., and Queens, N.Y.; Edward Iazetti, 55, of the Bronx; Gadoon Kyrollos, 34, of Freehold, N.J.; Thomas Lacerra, 73, of Staten Island, N.Y.; and Daniel Monreal, 61, of San Pedro, Calif.

• Other alleged money collectors/agents include Ian Mandell, 43, of Summerlin; Daniel Belardino, 57, of Fair Lawn, N.J.; Daniel Bornico, 67, of Long Island, N.Y.; Christian Rodriguez, 33, of Old Bridge, N.J.; Flora Wu, 37, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Edward Cappucci, 69, of Staten Island; Thomas Chiantese, 64, of Philadelphia; and Joseph Kornreich, 60, of Queens.

If convicted, the defendants face up to 25 years in prison for offenses that include enterprise corruption, a violation of New York’s Organized Crime Control Act, promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.

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  1. Poobear is either a shill or one of the co conspirators trying to spin the real story. Keep the heat on news organizations, Cantor Gaming isnt clean in this and neither is little Mikey! Follow the money! The real intresting facts involve the Organized Crime family connections to this story and how they play out in both NYC and Vegas!

  2. There is no organized crime.

  3. Art Swanson,

    Do you have credible proof that Cantor is involved or is that just an opinion you are expressing?