The television is tuned to some random sport’s channel just under the sound of poker chips clicking and an occasional yelp of joy or groan of despair. Yeah, this game isn’t quite on the up-and-up, but it’s the only game in town, and it’s been going on for about five years.
A regular just won a nice pot, and as he’s stacking the chips in a sort of beatific bliss, maybe thinking about a new PlayStation 5 or at least a steak dinner with all the fixings when BOOM BOOM BOOM, EVERYONE FREEZE, THIS IS THE POLICE.
Game over. Everyone loses.
It’s the stuff of nightmares for poker players that don’t have a regulated poker room around them and is what happened at an illegal room in Rochester, NY, in April of 2021. Last week, Feds announced charges against seven men accused of running the poker room and sports book out of an office building.
The Feds raided the game after a seven-month long investigation where officers posed as gamblers and poker players, tapped phones and emails, and subpoenaed financial records.
Louis P. Ferrari II, Dominic Sprague, and Tommaso Sessa are charged with operating an illegal gambling operation. Anthony Amato, Joseph Lomardo, Joseph Boscarino, and James Cilvetti are charged with transmission of wagering information, along with Ferrari and Sprague.
All seven of the defendants are charged with conspiracy for their participation in the operation.
Ferrari is also charged with money laundering.
No players were charged.
The poker room, a sparse, no-nonsense space with Rochester’s skyline printed on across its tables, was only one part of the gambling operation. It occupied an office in 565 Blossom Road, a large warehouse-like building with an art galley and a space for wedding receptions.
Investigators accuse the men of taking sports bets through a website, www.sport700.com, starting in 2016. It’s still live.
According to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle:
“Ferrari managed individual bettors and also oversaw sub-agents who had their own books of individual bettors. Lombardo and Boscarino are accused of being sub-agents under Ferrari through the website.
Amato was allegedly the administrator of the website and assisted Ferrari and others in creating accounts, usernames, and passwords. Amato also managed individual bettors and oversaw sub-agents, authorities say.”
Authorities say the money earned through the gambling business was laundered through Ferrari’s excavating company and that the poker room and sports betting operation generated more than $10 million — with 90% coming from the sports side.
The complaint also gives some insight as to how Ferrari went about collecting money from the gamblers who owed. Again, from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, which pulled its information from the complaint:
“Eavesdropping warrants captured calls and text messages between Ferrari and five of his co-defendants discussing details of the gambling operation. In one call, Ferrari tells Sprague he’d just gone to the home of a gambling client to collect money and physically assaulted him. According to a transcript of the call, Ferrari said he was concerned because the man’s wife had called the police.”
What a peach.
A former New York State police officer, Thomas Loewke, was also charged with two counts of obstruction justice for allegedly tipping off the proprietors that an investigation was taking place. One charge is Federal and one charge is local. He retired from the department last summer.
In December, a Michigan man plead guilty to running an illegal poker room. But in that case, it wasn’t a hidden “underground” room that was busted. Joshua T. Thatcher, who uploads videos on YouTube as the PLO Professor, sought and received permission from local leaders and operated in a storefront with signage.
After a local casino complained, his room was raided and he faced decades behind bars as law officials counted up the charges. All for running poker room right out in the open.