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‘Like looking at my bank statement today. Not gonna lie’: ‘Go-to’ lawyer for major lottery winners sent to prison for blowing jackpots on Ponzi scheme, PPE fraud

Jason Kurland

Jason Kurland (YouTube/screengrab)

A lawyer who billed himself as the “Lottery Lawyer,” the “go-to” counsel for winners of jackpots in the billions and hundreds of millions, has been sentenced to more than a decade of federal prison time for committing frauds against his clients, stealing and misappropriating more than $100 million and losing more than $40 million in investment capital to a Ponzi scheme.

Although attorneys for Jason Kurland, 49, called him the “least culpable defendant in this matter by any stretch of the imagination” and requested probation with home confinement, U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis, sitting in the Eastern District of New York, sentenced him to 13 years behind bars for wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit both of those offenses. The judge tacked on three years of supervised release and ordered the Dix Hills lawyer to pay $64,600,000 in forfeiture.

“The trial of Jason Kurland proved that Kurland violated his solemn duties as a lawyer and as an officer of the Court by stealing and misappropriating more than $100 million from his clients, who were some of the largest lottery winners in U.S. history. Just before trial, Christopher Chierchio pled guilty to assisting Kurland in this fraud, while personally pocketing more than $25 million of the lottery winners’ money,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. “Now, the sentences imposed by Judge Garaufis show that for these defendants who made the lottery winners their victims, their luck has run out, and this Office will prosecute anyone who chooses to engage in fraud – no matter their title or degree.”

The case was filed in the Eastern District of New York but because the U.S. Attorney’s Office there recused itself, the case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York.

Prosecutors alleged that Kurland accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from victims for safe investment advice, gained their trust with “primarily traditional investments,” and then “steered his clients to invest in various entities and business deals controlled and directed by” his co-defendants “and received kickbacks in return – which Kurland failed to disclose to his clients.”

These clients, who included winners of a $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot, the $245 million Powerball jackpot, and a $150 million Powerball jackpot, suffered losses totaling more than $60,000,000.

Jason Kurland

Kurland’s clients, including the pseudonymous Smiths, and the amount of money they lost.

The defendants, including alleged co-conspirators Frangesco Russo, Francis Smookler, were accused of used the money from the lottery victims’ investments to keep their scheme going and to enrich themselves. A portion of these funds was funneled back to the the victims and falsely presented to them as “interest payments” on their investments, other funds went to Kurland as kickbacks, and millions of dollars were stolen to support the defendants’ lavish lifestyles – private jets, expensive vacations, a Porsche, and two yachts, prosecutors said. The funds that the defendants actually invested in various entities and deals were, in large part, eventually lost — including $40 million to a Ponzi scheme allegedly orchestrated by jewelry merchant Gregory Altieri, who prosecutors say admitted to the scheme in December 2020.

Prosecutors said there was evidence the defendants “brazenly gloated about defrauding the Lottery Victims” before their house of cards collapsed.

“On a separate occasion, after KURLAND convinced one of the Lottery Victims to unknowingly purchase his and his co-defendants’ entire business for $2 million — a transaction that resulted in a large payout to KURLAND and his co-defendants — KURLAND bragged to Smookler in a text: ‘Like looking at my bank statement today. Not gonna lie,'” prosecutors said. “Motivated by greed, KURLAND and the co-defendants haphazardly invested the Lottery Victims’ money in high-risk deals, which turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. As it became apparent that their high-risk investments were in peril, KURLAND texted Smookler, ‘let me know if I’m keeping the Panamera [a Porsche model], or have to go back to my Lexus.’ Within a little more than a year, a large portion of the Lottery Victims’ investment capital, totaling more than $40 million, was lost.”

Notably, one of Kurland’s clients specifically brought up Bernie Madoff before Kurland convinced the client investing was safe. Prosecutors said that Kurland offered the fact of other clients’ investments as proof that the Wilsons could trust him.

“[Alex] Wilson told Kurland that he was not interested in ‘fast money’ and was concerned about a Ponzi scheme like ‘Madoff.’ In response, Kurland assured Wilson that the investment was ‘very safe’ because Kurland’s other clients had also invested, and Kurland had been monitoring the investment and ‘it looks pretty good,'” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.

Kurland was not the only person sentenced Thursday. Christopher Chierchio, a co-defendant alleged to be a Genovese crime family soldier, was sentenced to 5 years in prison for his admitted role as the middleman in a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)-related scheme geared towards making up for the losses.

According to the government, Kurland “placed personal greed over his legal and professional duties to the Lottery Victims” and, once the funds were lost to the Ponzi scheme, only “doubled down” in an attempt to “recoup his losses without having to tell his clients the truth about his fraud.”

“In April 2020, in an effort to try to recoup their losses and conceal their fraud from the Lottery Victims, KURLAND, [alleged co-conspirators Frangesco] Russo, and [Francis] Smookler resorted to investing in Personal Protective Equipment (‘PPE’) deals. CHIERCHIO was the middleman for the PPE deals. CHIERCHIO quickly capitalized on KURLAND’s precarious situation and need for quick returns, egging him on to ‘go deep with me here’ and promising that KURLAND could ‘make all [his] losses back,'” prosecutors said. “In turn, KURLAND stole $19.5 million from one of the Lottery Victims’ accounts. Only a portion of this money was ever used for the purported PPE deals while millions of dollars were skimmed off the top by CHIERCHIO and the other co-defendants. In total, KURLAND’s misrepresentations, along with the actions of his co-defendants, caused the Lottery Victims losses in excess of $80 million, as well as an additional $19.5 million that was stolen by KURLAND directly from one of the Lottery Victims.”

Prior to sentencing, the government calculated Kurland’s punishment range under the guidelines at 11.25 to 14 year (he received 13).

“Kurland’s crimes were extraordinarily serious,” the government emphasized. “For over a year, Kurland fraudulently induced the Lottery Victims to relinquish more than $60 million of their funds for purported investments in Kurland’s own MCA companies.”

Pushing back on the defense assertion that Kurland was the “least culpable defendant in this matter by any stretch of the imagination,” prosecutors called him the “gatekeeper who set the scheme in motion by exploiting his clients and their trust in him.”

“Without Kurland’s repeated criminal decisions to lie, cheat, and steal from his clients—to whom only he had access as their attorney—the fraud scheme would not have been possible,” prosecutors concluded, calling Kurland’s crimes “prolonged, brazen,” and a “grave abuse” of attorney-client trust.

According to Kurland’s lawyers, the defendant is a dedicated and devoted Brooklyn-born husband and father who “never set out to represent lottery winners.”

“It happened by chance,” the defense’s memo noted, “beginning with the representation of a friend of a friend who needed help after he won.”

“There is no doubt, however, that Jason loved being the Lottery Lawyer and caring for his clients, whom he often thought of as friends,” the defense said.

After his arrest, Kurland was fired from the Rivkin Radler law firm, where he was partner making half a million dollars a year. Now, his financial circumstances are quite different, the defense said.

“Jason’s indictment and conviction already have had crushing direct and collateral consequences. Rivkin Radler fired Jason the day of his arrest. Simultaneously, the government seized Jason’s principal bank accounts and the balance of his Rivkin Radler capital account, leaving him only a 401(k) and secondary bank accounts with negligible balances to his name,” the defense said, before requesting a sentence of probation with home confinement.

In closing, the defense re-asserted that Kurland is less culpable than the government made him out to be.

“The evidence at trial showed that Jason’s receipts from the events at issue were orders of magnitude less than Chierchio, Smookler, and Russo, and that more importantly Jason had no idea that the other defendants were pilfering his and his clients’ investments wholesale,” the filing said, emphasis theirs.

Jason Kurland turns 50 next March.

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.