Crime Clan Ran Big Betting Ring in Va., Police Say

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By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 17, 2006

They are an organized crime family, police said, one that ran a multimillion-dollar sports gambling operation from Fairfax County, perhaps the largest in the county's history, with hundreds, if not thousands, of clients.

The ringleaders were an Annandale father and his two sons, police said yesterday, and eight people have been charged with crimes more reminiscent of 1920s Chicago than today's Washington suburbs: racketeering, money laundering and, in one case, extortion.

During a coordinated two-year investigation, hundreds of police officers have swept in and searched more than 25 homes, businesses and financial institutions in Northern Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina, police said yesterday. In all, police said, they have seized nearly $2 million and $1 million worth of jewelry.

"I don't think we've dealt with an operation quite this large before," said Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. "I don't recall any in the past 39 years."

The suspects organized illegal bets on football and basketball and trafficked in marijuana, said Capt. David S. Vice, commander of the Fairfax County Police Department's Organized Crime and Narcotics Division. They had "hundreds and hundreds, if not close to thousands" of clients and collected millions of dollars a year, he said.

Police said the leaders were the Bansal family -- Raj K. Bansal, 59, and his two sons, Nicholas K. Bansal, 34, and Steven K. Bansal, 31. Longtime Northern Virginia residents, the Bansals became so enriched by their crimes that they apparently never held jobs, police said.

Each of the Bansals was charged with racketeering, money laundering, conducting an illegal gambling operation, conspiracy to conduct an illegal gambling operation and conspiracy to conduct money laundering. Raj and Nicholas Bansal also were charged with marijuana possession with the intent to distribute.

Fairfax police said the Bansal family's operation, though far larger than any they have investigated, is representative of a rise in illegal betting operations in the region, such as private poker games in homes, a trend police said is fueled by online betting and television programs featuring card-playing celebrities. Though betting might seem benign to people used to office March Madness pools, the organizations behind them are often steeped in criminal activity -- and can turn violent, police said. Police in Fairfax and Manassas said at least two private poker games have been robbed in the past several months.

"These people probably were completely unaware they were supporting an organization such as the Bansal family," Vice said of their clients -- some of whom ran up debts into the tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

The two-year investigation, dubbed Operation Underdog, came to a head Feb. 8, when hundreds of officers in Dare County, N.C., and Northern Virginia -- including more than 100 in Fairfax -- simultaneously raided eight homes, police said. They arrested the Bansals and five alleged accomplices: Sharon R. Connelly, 65, of Springfield; Rajan Harjani, 47, of Springfield; Thomas N. Chinault, 57, of Stafford; Michael D. Linton, 30, of Arlington; and Gaurav Gupta, 25, of Nokesville.

Though none of the suspects was charged with violent crimes, Vice said there is evidence that they employed brutality in the operation. Linton was charged with extortion, or using threats of violence to seize property -- in this case, debts -- from others.

Gupta was charged with three counts of distribution of marijuana. All other suspects were charged with racketeering, money laundering and other crimes. Some, Vice said, were involved in picking up and dropping off cash.


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