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‘Lottery Lawyer,’ others accused of swindling winners out of millions

The self-proclaimed “Lottery Lawyer” has been charged in a scheme in which tens of millions of dollars was swindled from lottery winners, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

New York lawyer Jason Kurland, 46, is accused of gaining the trust of his clients, some of whom won big in Mega Millions and Powerball, and steering them to invest in businesses controlled by three other people who are also charged. Kurland is alleged to have gotten kickbacks in the scheme.

More than $107 million was invested in the scheme, and of that, more than $80 million was either stolen or lost, prosecutors said. The indictment was unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn.

Kurland “allowed co-conspirators to pillage his clients’ bank accounts for their own enrichment,” acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme said in a statement.

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Christopher Chierchio, 52, who is described in a court document as a soldier in the Genovese crime family; former securities broker Francis Smookler, 45; and Frangesco Russo, 38, were also charged.

All four have been charged with wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering and money laundering conspiracy, prosecutors said. Kurland was also charged with honest services fraud.

All four pleaded not guilty Tuesday, and all but Russo were freed on bond, The Associated Press reported.

Russo and Smookler are also accused of threatening to kill a jewelry merchant and torture his wife and son unless the merchant repaid a $250,000 “street loan” in the amount of over $400,000, prosecutors said. The merchant, Gregory Altieri, was indicted last month in what prosecutors called a $200 million Ponzi scheme. Some of the money from the lottery victims was invested with Altieri, and it was lost, but the loan was called a separate matter in court documents.

An attorney for Kurland, Telemachus Kasulis, said in an email Wednesday: “Over his twenty year unblemished legal career, Jason Kurland has always had his clients’ best interests at heart and continues to do so today. He looks forward to having his day in court.”

An attorney for Chierchio, Gerald J. McMahon, said his client was “not guilty of these fraudulent charges” and denied that Chierchio was a member of organized crime. “If he were not Italian, there would be no accusation of this nature,” McMahon told the AP.

One of the attorneys representing Russo, Joseph Conway, said in an email that Russo “looks forward to presenting evidence at a future trial to clear his name of these charges.” Bond was set at $2 million, but he was still detained Tuesday night pending an appeal from prosecutors.

An email sent Tuesday night seeking comment to a lawyer listed as representing Smookler was not returned

Among the victims of the scheme was someone who won $1.5 billion in Mega Millions and another person who won a $245 million Powerball jackpot, the U.S. attorney’s office said. The third victim won a $150 million jackpot.

The lottery winners sought help from Kurland and his firm for advice on investments, prosecutors said.

Kurland gained their trust with traditional investment options from large and well-known institutions, but he then is alleged to have steered them to invest in businesses or other entities controlled and directed by Russo, Smookler and Chierchio, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said that Kurland was paid kickbacks and that the investments were used to keep the scheme going. The money was stolen to fund “lavish lifestyles,” prosecutors said.

Kurland’s law firm, Rivkin Radler, said that the charges had taken it “by complete surprise” and that it is cooperating with the federal investigation, the AP reported. The firm issued a statement saying it was “taking immediate steps to remove Mr. Kurland as a partner.”

Kurland has been interviewed in the media in the past regarding large lottery jackpots, including by NBC News.

By July, some of the defendants, who were aware of an FBI investigation, became concerned that they could go to jail, according to court documents.

Smookler is alleged to have told Chierchio in one call that “we have to [expletive] give that money back to these people,” and he appeared worried that the federal government had documents, according to court papers.

Court documents say Kurland pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in undisclosed kickbacks from the investments, while “the other defendants stole far more money directly from the investments.”

A self-described "Lottery Lawyer" and three other people have been charged in a scheme to steal from some major lottery winners, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Hiring a Lawyer to Manage Lottery Winnings

Why Your First Call After Winning the Lottery Should Be to Hire a Good Lawyer

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If you win the lottery, you might think your biggest decision will be what you should buy first. But the truth is, you’ll need help to keep as much of that money as possible to spend down the road. And the first step to getting that help is hiring a lottery lawyer.

What Is a Lottery Lawyer?

Big lottery winners may feel overwhelmed by the number of decisions they have to make before they even claim a jackpot. To make things even more confusing, each state that participates in the lottery has its own procedures for claiming a prize and for minimizing tax liability. That’s why a lawyer’s help really comes in handy.

A lottery lawyer is part of the advisory team that winners should put together to help them wade through the legalities of claiming a prize without making costly mistakes. A good lottery lawyer can protect jackpot winners, their families, and their hard-won cash.

You don’t necessarily need a lawyer who brands themselves as a lottery lawyer, but you do want someone who has experience managing large windfalls. Good lottery lawyers have experience with taxes, estate planning, setting up trusts, and protecting assets.

What Lottery Lawyers Do for Jackpot Winners

If you’ve just won a bundle of cash, you might balk at giving a big chunk of it to a lawyer right off the bat. However, hiring a good lawyer really pays off in the long run. Here are some examples of what lottery lawyers do for jackpot winners:

Protecting Anonymity

When you win the lottery, you want to keep the news as private as possible to avoid being the target of lawsuits, scams, and straight-out begging for cash. But keeping the word from spreading isn’t a simple task. Some states let lottery winners claim their prizes anonymously. Others don’t, but let winners claim in the name of a business, which can reduce the publicity they have to deal with. A good lottery lawyer can help winners protect their anonymity as much as possible.

Another option many lottery winners choose is to set up a trust to claim the prize. In many cases, setting up a trust not only helps protect the winner’s identity, but also prevents the winner from spending too much too quickly while fending off requests for handouts and donations. A lottery lawyer can help determine whether a trust is beneficial for the winner and if so, can help set it up.

Putting Together a Trustworthy Advisory Team

The lottery lawyer isn’t the only important team member that a new jackpot winner needs. An accountant and a financial advisor with experience in helping people deal with large windfalls are also very helpful. A lottery lawyer can help winners pick the other members of their advisory team.

Advising About Payout Options

New lottery winners need to make the decision whether to take a lump sum or an annuity payout. A lottery winner can keep them apprised about the legal and financial ramifications of their choice. Because they know the winner’s exact financial status, they can give better advice than the winner would receive by reading articles online.

Avoiding Common Mistakes

An experienced lottery lawyer knows the pitfalls that inexperienced lottery winners can face. Lawyers can help their clients decide the best time to claim a prize and advise them how to keep their tickets safe until then, avoid overspending, manage their safety, and more. If you don’t want to become a lottery curse victim, a lottery lawyer is a valuable ally who can help you create a strategy to manage your wealth safely.

Quashing Frivolous Lawsuits

Unfortunately, lottery winners can become targets for people who want to scam their way into some of their money. Frivolous lawsuits are one of the ways that unscrupulous people try to worm their way into unearned cash.

A lottery lawyer will not only defend winners from these lawsuits, but they also can anticipate the ways that winners are vulnerable and help them to avoid becoming targets.

How to Hire a Lottery Lawyer

Winners spend a lot of time with their financial team, so it’s important to find someone they trust and feel comfortable with. And of course, the lawyer should be familiar with the unique problems lottery winners face.

It’s not a decision that any winner should make lightly. In 2020, self-branded lottery lawyer Jason Kurland was indicted for defrauding his clients of over $100 million.   You don’t want to trust an unscrupulous person with your winnings.

Some of the things to consider when hiring a lottery lawyer include:

Experience

A good lottery lawyer knows the ins and outs of lottery law and has represented other big winners and people who have received unexpected financial windfalls. They should have proven experience with tax law, trust planning, asset protection, and other financial considerations in your specific statet.

Price

Even jackpot winners need to be careful not to overspend on legal fees. A more expensive lawyer isn’t necessarily a better lawyer, and a good lottery lawyer shouldn’t offer to take a percentage of your winnings. Instead, you should settle on a reasonable hourly fee or retainer. The Laffey Matrix is one way to get ballpark figures for how much it costs to hire a lawyer.

Recommendations

Do some research to find out whether other clients have had good or bad experiences with any lawyers you are considering. If you don’t know anyone who has used them personally, an internet search might reveal compliments or complaints. There are also databases of respected lawyers that you can use, and you can ask any lawyers that you are considering hiring to give you references.

Clean Disciplinary Record

If a lawyer has had disciplinary action taken against him or her, you’ll want to know about it before you hire them. Luckily there are databases that let you check out the lawyers you are considering hiring so that you can look up disciplinary actions by state.

Personality

Don’t overlook your emotional reaction to any lottery lawyer you are considering hiring. You need to be able to trust the lawyer you hire and to feel good about working with them. Sometimes even very good lawyers just don’t mesh with your personality and vice versa, and that’s fine.

Once you know what you are looking for in a lottery lawyer, interview several different candidates to make sure you are finding the proper fit.

If you aren’t sure where to start your hiring process, reach out to your local Bar Association. They can help point you in the right direction.

When Should You Hire a Lottery Lawyer?

If you win a large prize in a lottery, getting a good lawyer should be a priority. You’ll want to have representation before you tell anyone outside of your immediate circle of family and trusted friends that you’ve won, and certainly before you claim your prize.

What's the first thing you should do when you win the lottery? Hire a lawyer! Here's what a lottery lawyer can do for you and how to hire one. ]]>