New York State law enforcement has broken up an illegal gambling and loan-sharking racket with alleged links to the notorious Lucchese crime family.
Ten people, most from New Rochelle, Westchester County, were arrested and indicted Tuesday on charges of first-degree usury and first-degree promoting illegal gambling, according to the state attorney general’s office.
It was the culmination of “Operation The Vig is Up” – a yearlong investigation into the bookmaking activities of alleged Lucchese “made member” Dominick Capelli and the loan-sharking operation coordinated by his alleged henchmen. It was the biggest loan-sharking operation the AG’s office had ever investigated.
The “vig” in question refers not to the bookmaker’s edge but the usurious interest payments charged on the loans, which collectively exceeded a $1 million during the duration of the investigation alone.
Cycle of Exorbitant Debt
Prosecutors described how the operation was designed to trap gamblers in a cycle of impossible debt. They identified at least 47 victims, many saddled with multiple loans and paying exorbitant weekly interest rates equivalent to 200 percent per year.
Debtors were required to turn over weekly payments to the defendants in person, or to make drop offs at McKiernan’s Lawton Street Tavern or The Glass Room, a vape shop, both in New Rochelle.
“As we allege, this brazen ring of criminals preyed on New Yorkers using a gambling operation to funnel victims into their loan-sharking operation, and then saddling them with usurious loan payments,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.
“My office will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to root out organized crime and prosecute these criminals to the fullest extent of the law.”
Over the course of the investigation, wiretaps, covert surveillance cameras, a car bug, undercover police officers, and hidden cameras were used, the AG’s office said.
Online Bookmaking Operation
In addition to Capelli, officials charged Robert Wagner, Frank McKiernan, Anthony Martino, Michael Wagner, Steve Murray, Seth Trustman, Richard Caccavale, Jessica Bismark and Robert Wagner Jr.
Capelli, Wagner, and Frank McKiernan are alleged to have run the illegal Mafia bookmaking operation, via the bxbets.com website, which generated over half a million dollars in bets each year. An associate of the gang was also charged with related drugs offenses.
“This investigation and successful take down of this organized-crime loan-sharking operation was the culmination of a collaborative effort among the attorney general’s Organized Crime Task Force, the New Rochelle police and our office,” Westchester County District Attorney Anthony Scarpino said in a statement.
“We commend the work of all involved and will continue to work together to fight organized crime here in Westchester.”