A former executive at the Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania has been sentenced to 32 months for his role in a scheme that involved the casino’s slot machines and creating bogus loyalty rewards.
Robert Pellegrini was VP of player development for the Mohegan Sun when he and two others concocted a scheme to bilk his employers by using customers’ stolen loyalty card PIN numbers to play for free, allowing the gang to keep the winnings. The operation ran from May 2014 to April 2015, before Pellegrini was busted.
It was the role of Rochelle Poszeluznyj, a cocktail waitress, to note down players’ loyalty card PIN numbers as she served them drinks, before passing them onto Pellegrini, who would create copies of the cards which he then loaded with free slot money. Then it was Mark Joseph Heltzel, a customer who had previously been caught cheating at blackjack but was mysteriously not banned, who posed as a regular customer and used the cards to play slots, splitting the winnings among the group.
The court was told how the trio used $478,100 in free slot play to generate $418,793 in illicit winnings.
“I’m a flawed man,” Pellegrini, who claims to be a problem gambler, told the judge. “I’ve made mistakes in my life, this being the biggest,” he said. “I didn’t steal to pay my bills. It was to support my gambling.”
When asked how a compulsive gambler could hold down a high-profile job at a casino, Pellegrini replied: “Where do you think casino workers go on their days off? They go to other casinos.”
The scheme was uncovered when a dealer at the Mohegan Sun Pocono, who was apparently in love with Poszeluznyj, spilled the beans to authorities, because he viewed Heltzel as a rival for her affections.
Prosecutor Michelle Olshefski countered Pellegrini’s assertion that he had not stolen for greed, noting that while the scam was ongoing, he had hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank, as well as a number of assets. She said phone records suggested he was the ringleader of the scheme and that he regularly told his accomplices to “get busy” because he had “bills to pay.”
Nevertheless, Senior US District Judge A Richard Caputo departed from sentencing guidelines after hearing impassioned pleas from his family and character testimonies suggesting he was of otherwise good character.
Pellegrini must also pay $478,350 in restitution to his former employer. He could have received as much as 20 years in prison.
Poszeluzny and Heltzel have both pleaded guilty and are due to be sentenced at a later date. Heltzel faces 175 mostly felony counts of theft, identity theft, criminal conspiracy, and winning by fraud. His bail was initially set at $500,000, but was reduced to $150,000, with the understanding that he would surrender any firearms and pay just 10 percent of the bond to walk free until his sentencing date.