2 Admit to Managing Sports Betting Ring
Thursday, June 28, 2007
It was known as "the Organization," its alleged leader called simply "the Old Man." His two sons took sports bets from customers all over Northern Virginia, charged the losers 10 percent "juice" and collected their money at a butcher shop in Springfield.
Those who didn't pay were threatened by the organization's enforcer, prosecutors said. One such customer was robbed of his stash of marijuana, which was sold to make good on his debt.
The multimillion-dollar sports gambling operation was one of the largest in the Washington region, and it has unraveled over the past month with nine guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. The most prominent defendants -- Nicholas Kumar Bansal, 35, and Steven Kumar Bansal, 32 -- pleaded guilty Tuesday, admitting that they had managed the business since 1995 and laundered more than $2.5 million in profits.
The two are now expected to cooperate and testify against their father, Raj Kumar Bansal, sources familiar with the case said yesterday. The elder Bansal, 63, of Annandale, is charged with being the "Old Man" who headed the organization. Among those he is accused of recruiting is Sharon Rudolph Connelly, 66, former director of the Office of Inspector and Auditor at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Connelly and Raj Kumar Bansal, along with three others, are charged under federal racketeering statutes traditionally used against the Mafia. Prosecutors said the gambling ring ran much like an organized crime organization, with members engaging in loan sharking, obtaining "no show" jobs to hide proceeds and kicking the gambling winnings up to the Bansals.
Court documents and law enforcement officials described the operation as extensive, involving crimes that include money laundering, extortion, robbery and witness tampering. Hundreds of customers, mostly from Northern Virginia but also from Maryland and the District, placed bets, mostly on football and basketball games.
The family members at the center of the case are longtime Northern Virginia residents who were so enriched by the gambling that they apparently never held legitimate jobs, law enforcement officials and defense attorneys said. Jim Clark, an attorney for Steven Bansal, said his client "was caught up at an early age in gambling culture. It almost became a way of life for him, and perhaps other members of his family."
Clark said his client "has completely left that lifestyle behind and wants to pay whatever debts he can and move on to another chapter in his life."
John Keats, an attorney for Nicholas Bansal, declined to comment on his client's guilty plea but said the charges amounted to "a fairly minor conspiracy. A Las Vegas casino probably does in a night what these guys allegedly did in 11 years. This is peanuts."
An attorney for the elder Bansal did not return telephone calls, and an attorney for Connelly declined to comment.
The bets were taken primarily over the telephone, but starting in 2001 the business also used Web sites, managed by an overseas company, on which bettors could wager on sports and games such as blackjack, court documents said. In their guilty pleas, the Bansal sons said they gave bettors a user name and password to use the sites.
Losers were charged a 10 percent commission, known as "juice," and were frequently assessed interest of 5 percent per week if they didn't pay up.
The enforcer, who is unnamed in court documents, allegedly threatened violence and at one point vowed to burn down a gas station owned by the father of someone who owed the Bansals money.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Underdog, began in 2004 and involved the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI and Fairfax County police.
Several law enforcement officers infiltrated the gambling organization, and eight defendants were initially charged in Fairfax County. Federal prosecutors took over the case because it involved overseas entities and a large number of defendants and because federal sentencing guidelines are tougher, law enforcement sources said.
Fairfax prosecutors said yesterday that they will dismiss the charges filed there against the Bansals and their co-defendants.
Five people remain charged in federal court, and officials said the investigation is continuing.
Staff writer Tom Jackman contributed to this report.