JUN 15, 2022
UPDATE: ‘Lottery Lawyer’ Gets 11 Years In $62M Fraud
A Brooklyn federal judge sentenced “Lottery Lawyer” Jason Kurland to serve 11 yrs for his role defrauding clients of $62 million in winnings, saying he abused his position of trust in grotesque fashionhttps://t.co/th0KsEeYit
— lawsinusa (@lawsinusa) June 15, 2023
The Lottery Lawyer Won Their Trust, Then Lost Their Mega Millions
JUL 1, 2022 | REPUBLISHED BY LINY : APR 26, 2023
By the spring of 2020, the lottery lawyer wasn’t sure the walls were necessarily closing in. The FBI had started interviewing his insta-millionaire clients, though, and things didn’t look good. The jackpots several winners had entrusted him to invest seemed to be dwindling, and Jay Kurland wasn’t sure how much they blamed him.
Shortly before 9 a.m. on June 19, he hopped on the phone with his neighbor and business partner Francis Smookler, a tanned, easy-living ex-stockbroker. “My Staten Island clients are very concerned,” Kurland said, singling out one couple. “You know, the visits, combined with the lack of payments.”
“Do you think that that’s going to explode into some big thing?” Smookler asked.
“No,” Kurland replied. “At the end of the day, we made, we’ve got bad business moves, but it was nothing criminal.”
Kurland Photo illustration: Chris Burnett; Photos: Len Irish
Four days later, Smookler called another member of their team, a childhood friend named Frangesco Russo. The two were close; on the phone, they called each other “cuzzie.” Frankie’s grandfather was Andy “Mush” Russo, the longtime head of the Colombo crime family; his late father, Joseph “Jo Jo” Russo, died in prison. Frankie had kept his distance from the family business, but he was nevertheless acquainted with the criminal justice system. “We coerced these people into investing with us,” Smookler told him.
Russo didn’t seem too worried. “Maybe we conducted immorally. Fine,” he said. “All I know is that a lawyer was giving me $5, $10, $20 million.”
Smookler pressed. “They are going to say, though, that ‘you guys made all this money.’ ”
“No no no no no. They are going to be very targeted on what they say,” Russo told him. “And their target is going to be one specific person, I believe.”
“I’ve been at this for 40 or more years, and I’ve never seen a guy that was deader in the water”
The lottery lawyer lives with his wife, Lauren, and their three kids on a tastefully landscaped property in a cul-de-sac with an impossibly twee name in Dix Hills, N.Y. A hamlet of 25,000, Dix Hills lies about smack in the middle of Long Island, ringed by a classic Suffolk County assortment of golf courses and car dealerships. Kurland is 48 and stands 6 feet 3 inches tall, with friendly, deep-brown eyes and a rangy, athletic build—he played goalie for Team USA’s bronze-medal-winning 40-and-over ice hockey squad at the 2017 Maccabiah Games, in Jerusalem. A couple of times this spring, I drove out to his neighborhood to try to catch him at home. The scene each time: Amazon parcels piled on the doorstep, SUVs in the driveway, dead quiet and nothing doing in the middle of the afternoon.
For years, Kurland’s life was as superficially placid as his suburban enclave. Not far away is the Chai Center, the “unorthodox Orthodox” synagogue where his kids went to preschool. Farther west, in Uniondale, is the predominantly low-income Walnut Street School, where he once mentored fourth- and fifth-graders. And a few minutes on is the law firm of Rivkin Radler, where as a partner Kurland cultivated a nationally known practice advising Powerball and Mega Millions winners bewildered by their sudden riches. Behind his desk he kept an oversize replica check for $245.6 million, made out to a Staten Island carpenter who later told investigators he’d found Kurland “very reassuring and comforting.”
There were others in this ultra-specialized field, such as Kurt Panouses of Indialantic, Fla., the so-called Powerball Lawyer. But Kurland was America’s foremost lotto-winner whisperer. Morning shows would book him for soft-focus segments; thelotterylawyer.com and @lotterylawyer were his. In 2018 he started representing the biggest solo lottery winner of all time, a woman who’d bought a $1.5 billion ticket at a convenience store in South Carolina.
As Kurland racked up more and richer clients, he started looking for more innovative ways to multiply their money. Side hustles emerged, and the cast of characters he worked with began to look less vanilla: In addition to Smookler and Russo, there was Christopher Chierchio, who ran a Staten Island plumbing business and has been identified in the New York tabloids as a Genovese crime-family soldier; Greg Altieri, a wholesale jeweler turned Ponzi schemer; and Kurland’s own brother-in-law, Scott Blyer, aka DrBFixin, a cosmetic surgeon specializing in Brazilian butt lifts.
It all came to a head when, on the morning of Aug. 18, 2020, Kurland, Smookler, Russo, and Chierchio were booked on multiple counts of wire fraud and money laundering, accused of bilking three marquee lottery winners out of more than $100 million. Smookler and Russo were also accused of extortion. Federal prosecutors in New York laid out a scheme predicated on the trust Kurland had built with clients who were wildly unprepared for the opportunities and pitfalls of sudden wealth. Following Kurland’s investment advice, lottery winners plowed cash into high-interest lending businesses run by his associates, for which he allegedly received secret kickbacks. After that, he put more of his clients’ millions—without necessarily telling them—into a scheme to buy face masks from Asia at the raging height of the pandemic, then flip them for a profit. And for good measure, Kurland and his associates were accused of siphoning lottery winnings to pay for boats, luxury cars, country club memberships, and other clichés. Oh, and one of the crew threatened to murder the family of a man who turned out, inconveniently, to be a federal informant.
The defendants swiftly formed a Reservoir Dogs-style circular firing squad, pleading not guilty and accusing one another of committing crimes. Kurland’s attorney, former federal prosecutor Telemachus Kasulis, argued in court filings that the lottery lawyer had been naive—the victim of associates who made off with funds he thought they were investing responsibly. Smookler and Russo concluded on calls captured by a federal wiretap that “morality is against” Kurland and said he was driven by “simple greed,” mocking him for excesses such as a black vinyl wrap for his Lincoln Navigator. Smookler darkly predicted that Kurland would land on front pages after hanging himself in his garage. Gerald McMahon, a defense attorney who has frequently represented alleged mobsters and began the case as Chierchio’s lawyer, told me: “I’ve been at this for 40 or more years, and I’ve never seen a guy that was deader in the water with the evidence against him than Jason Kurland.”
None of the accused agreed to comment for this article, though Kasulis said Kurland “looks forward to clearing his name at trial and rebuilding his life.” All of the private conversations quoted in the story are drawn from transcripts of wiretapped calls, interviews conducted by FBI agents and prosecutors, or recordings made by confidential informants. Some of these materials were made public in court filings, and some I reviewed independently.
Kurland’s trial is slated to begin in mid-July, barring a last-minute plea agreement. As the jury sorts through a wild constellation of shady rackets, they’ll also be assessing the lottery lawyer’s character. Was he a Long Island mook who got hoodwinked by friends in low places? Or did he smell the mega millions and decide he deserved a bigger share?
Before one of my excursions to Dix Hills, I called Rabbi Yakov Saacks, of the Chai Center, to get a sense of Kurland. “I know them as the sweetest, gentlest people,” Saacks said of Jay and Lauren. “You know, you can tell on a person’s face most of the time—doesn’t always work—if they’re a good person, a kind person. I mean, it has backfired on me in the past. Eight out of 10 times, I’m correct.
Kurland’s first lottery gig was, as these things go, a famous one: In 2011 a trio of Connecticut hedge fund managers won a $254 million Powerball prize that nobody else was happy to see them claim. Kurland was working at a firm called Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman, slogging away on commercial real estate deals, and a client who was friends with one of the hedge fund guys put them in touch. The resulting exposure led to more clients, which led to a new professional identity.
Some Lottery Lawyer Millionaires
2011 – Putnam Avenue Family Trust (Tim Davidson, Brandon Lacoff, Greg Skidmore)
Connecticut Powerball, $254 million
2012 – Rainbow Sherbert Trust (Louise White)
Rhode Island Powerball, $336.4 million
2016 – Belinda Poblete
New York Cash4Life, $7 million
2016 – Daniel Golio
New York CASHX100, $5 million
2017 – The Ning Trust
Delaware Powerball, $121.6 million
2018 – Anonymous winner
South Carolina Mega Millions, $1.53 billion
2018 – Sea & Sand Trust (Nandlall Mangal)
New York Powerball, $245.6 million
The business Kurland established was premised on the ironic tendency for lottery winners to be terrible at managing their riches. There’s an entire schadenfreude-driven subgenre of “lottery winners who lost it all” articles. A few years ago, Kurland listed for a Vice reporter some of the ways they tended to get ripped off, from muggings to bogus real estate schemes. “A lot of these winners are not sophisticated enough to see it,” he said, “so you really have to rely on the professionals.” Kurland pitched himself to clients as both a legal adviser and a financial consigliere. For a retainer and a monthly fee, he would advise winners on how to maintain anonymity, negotiate tax bills, park money in trusts, and invest wisely in general. Payment varied based on the jackpot’s size; one typical client was charged a $100,000 retainer and $15,000 per month thereafter.
By the time Kurland met Smookler, in 2015, Kurland’s lottery specialty was well-established. But for all its flash, he was still attached to the same suburban firm where he’d worked since graduating from Hofstra University’s law school in 2000. Smookler had recently moved to Kurland’s street, where he would tool around in a golf cart; he was a competitive sport-fisher and finance guy with a client list that he claimed included Shaquille O’Neal and other NBA stars. From Kurland’s vantage point across the cul-de-sac, Smookler’s lifestyle might have looked enticing.
It’s not clear whether Smookler’s life was really all that glamorous, but he certainly promoted it that way. On a personal blog written in the third person, he published self-aggrandizing if vague insights on golfing, racehorse breeding, and political networking. One post called Smookler “instrumental” to the rise of former Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini; when I reached Sini, he said he’d never heard of him. Smookler also described Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone as a “good friend”; Bellone’s spokesperson told me they might have met at a fundraiser. Smookler does seem to have known Shaq, since the blog features an undated photo of Smookler in a sweaty T-shirt, backing down the Big Aristotle on a basketball court; a spokesman for O’Neal told me Shaq didn’t invest money with Smookler.
In 2015, Smookler was affiliated with a firm called Brookville Capital Partners. Old Brookville is the name of the Long Island town where he grew up, next door to Jordan Belfort of Wolf of Wall Street fame; Belfort told me he might have paid Smookler “a few dollars” to “pick up golf balls in my backyard” back then. Since 2003, records from the regulatory body Finra show, Smookler had settled hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of disputes filed by roughly a dozen clients who claimed he and the firm mismanaged their investments. In early 2015, Finra fined Brookville $1.5 million for fraud and barred its president from the securities industry. Smookler declined to comment on these events, and the now-former president didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Smookler had semi-retired from finance but was still pursuing new business opportunities. One night he met with Kurland and his old buddy Russo over beers. Smookler was aware that Kurland’s lottery clients offered him access to tens of millions of dollars—a “spigot” of investing cash, he’d later call it. He told Kurland about a number of associated businesses he and Russo were starting, including one called Cheddar Capital. Their idea was to join an industry that had emerged following the 2008 financial collapse. After the crash, banks tightened lending requirements in ways that cut off small businesses that had bad credit or checkered legal situations, or that needed cash quickly. Cheddar would offer a form of loan called a merchant cash advance, an often-predatory instrument that commanded interest rates as high as 400% and was typically paid back in chunks withdrawn daily from borrowers’ bank accounts. Merchant cash advances were especially lucrative in New York, which allowed the accompanying use of a confession of judgment, a punishing legal tool that lets a lender deploy a marshal to seize the signer’s assets on the thinnest of pretexts. Did Kurland want in?
He did. Not long after he met Smookler, according to prosecutors, he bought a 20% stake in Cheddar Capital and began looking for other investors, promising above-market returns. In November 2016 he turned to his brother-in-law, Blyer, aka DrBFixin.
The BBL Bible.
Compared with Smookler, Blyer was a master of internet PR, posting bawdy skits and graphic before-and-after-surgery pics for his 250,000 Instagram followers. In 2021 he self-published a book, The BBL Bible: How to Get a Butt to Die for, Without Dying for It. Its cover features a photo illustration of Blyer in sleeveless black scrubs, parting the Red Sea while flanked by Old Testament-y randos in white robes. The neon-accented lobby at his practice off the Long Island Expressway features a similar mélange of questionable taste and borderline-insane charm, with a floor-to-ceiling stripper pole and wall décor featuring butts that light up when spanked.
Blyer and Kurland are close. Kurland and his wife met at Hofstra, and before getting married they lived for a time with her parents and Blyer. Blyer later told prosecutors that he used to worry Kurland was “lazy and not a go-getter,” but that when Kurland morphed into the lottery lawyer, he started to feel better about his prospects. Eventually, Blyer said, Kurland began to exhibit genuine entrepreneurial tendencies, talking about further profiting from his multimillionaire clientele.
That was where Cheddar came in. According to Blyer’s Department of Justice interview, he was often paid for surgeries in cash, and he’d told his brother-in-law he was looking for ways to avoid paying taxes on it. Kurland suggested Blyer fork over $100,000 to be invested in Cheddar. Blyer laid out the cash on his kitchen counter, then deposited it in shoeboxes for Kurland to bring home. Kurland had Cheddar mark down the investment as an “advertising” expense for Blyer’s practice. Several months later, Blyer was back with an additional $200,000. (Blyer hasn’t been charged with anything and is slated to testify at Kurland’s trial.)
Kurland was serving up Cheddar to his lottery clients, too, though it’s not clear they knew exactly what the company did. In the fall of 2018, Nandlall “Ricky” Mangal, the Staten Island carpenter who’d won the $246 million Powerball, got in touch, seeking representation. Mangal, a 42-year-old Guyanese immigrant, drove with his wife to Kurland’s office. The couple were nervous, they later told prosecutors, but they agreed to every piece of advice he gave, from taking their post-tax winnings in a lump sum ($92 million, after taxes and fees), to hiring the banker and accountant he recommended, to going on a post-windfall vacation in Aruba.
Within a week of Mangal’s win, Kurland persuaded him to deposit $5 million into Cheddar, after which the company sent Kurland $63,000. In January, Mangal invested another $5 million, and Kurland got another $63,000. Eventually an additional $7 million of Mangal’s money followed, to be invested in two affiliated cash advance companies run out of the same office as Cheddar. Prosecutors would allege that Kurland, Smookler, and Russo used these companies’ accounts as a “slush fund” for personal expenses such as a Range Rover and a shopping spree at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Mangal told the FBI he was happy to leave his investments in Kurland’s hands; as far as he knew, he had no reason to worry. He said he wasn’t aware of whether Kurland had a stake in the company or whether he received payments for steering investments its way. Neither Mangal nor any other former Kurland client responded to interview requests for this story.
According to prosecutors, a pattern formed: Kurland steered mega millionaires to the merchant cash advance companies, Kurland got a cut, and he and his associates helped themselves to the dough. It happened with a couple—referred to as the “Healthy Rainbow People,” for reasons that remain unclear—who’d won a $150 million jackpot and put in $5 million. And it happened with the $1.5 billion Mega Millions winner from South Carolina, who was in for $30 million. Kurland bought a country club membership and started spending more time at Saks Fifth Avenue.
By the summer of 2019, it was shoebox time again. Kurland told DrBFixin he and his partners had expanded their lending business, thanks to a “diamond guy” named Greg Altieri, who was borrowing large quantities from their cash advance companies. Blyer told investigators Kurland asked him if he wanted to double down on his “advertising” outlays. He plunked down another $300,000 in cash.
The jewelry deal had started innocently enough. Altieri was another Long Island boy, from Melville, married with two kids. He’d worked his way up as a wholesaler, selling to clients including J.C. Penney and Kay Jewelers. His business appeared modest from the outside. But in 2018, he later told investigators, he discovered he’d been bilked by a smooth-talking acquaintance who’d claimed to be an oil heir, and he’d begun casting about for seven-figure investments. He caught wind of some local guys in the lending business.
Smookler and a few others met Altieri for dinner at Rothmann’s Steakhouse, on the North Shore, where the jeweler explained that he was buying pieces at “clearout” prices and flipping them for a 30% to 70% profit. The lenders were in. Kurland returned to some of his winners and told them about the opportunity. The South Carolina billionaire and the Healthy Rainbow People (both of whom have maintained their anonymity) agreed to put in almost $20 million, combined.
But instead of investing in jewelry, or anything at all, Altieri was running what was in effect a Ponzi scheme, using new capital to pay back his earlier investors, an archetypal Long Island mix of retired cops and firefighters. Inevitably the scheme collapsed. By the fall of 2019, with payments from Altieri drying up, Kurland was simultaneously assuring his clients not to worry and moving to protect his brother-in-law, returning Blyer’s latest $300,000 in cash. Kurland said it was no longer a good time to invest with him, Blyer told the feds. He added that Kurland “looked terrible” and wasn’t sleeping.
Kurland started pressing Russo and Smookler for answers; they began pressuring Altieri for cash. What neither Kurland nor any of his associates knew was that Altieri was cooperating with the government, and in March 2020 he started to record their calls. “Before the law can even arrest me, I’ll have everyone with a f—ing bullet in the head,” Russo told Altieri on March 26. “You’re gonna get f—in’ tortured,” Smookler told him a few days later. “The village is burned. It’s game over. You’ve ruined my life.” Smookler said he hoped Altieri’s lawyer would die in a car accident. Russo told Altieri his son’s teeth would get ripped out.
None of it helped them: In July, Altieri was charged with defrauding dozens of investors of close to $200 million. Six months later he pleaded guilty. The money was gone.
To make his lottery winners whole again, Kurland needed a Hail Mary. It came to him, or so he thought, in the form of Chierchio, the Staten Island plumbing entrepreneur and reputed Genovese family soldier. In his early 50s, bald, and solid-looking, he’d had mixed results with the legal system. In 2004, he was convicted of bribing a labor official, among other charges, landing him in prison for close to two years. In 2019, better luck: A jury acquitted him in a bid-rigging case involving a plumbing job in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “The smearing of my name—it destroyed my family, and my clients stayed away,” he told the Staten Island Advance after the acquittal. “I’m 100% innocent,” he added. “I just needed God on my side.” In January 2020 he was convicted of tax fraud.
When the pandemic struck, Chierchio caught wind of a new opportunity: personal protective equipment. Governments were seeking contractors to provide PPE fast, and in the largest quantities possible. In March 2020, California signed an $800 million agreement to buy 400 million masks and 200 million face shields from Bear Mountain, a company run by former Alabama Attorney General Troy King. Chierchio somehow got himself acquainted with King, who was looking for subcontractors. Then he called a business associate in Miami, looking to raise $20 million to buy the PPE; the associate introduced him to some guys he knew on Long Island who worked with lottery winners.
Kurland didn’t know Chierchio. But he leaped at the chance to work with him and asked his South Carolina winner if she’d be interested in the deal. Eager to put her money to philanthropic use—and unaware, according to prosecutors, that the jewelry money was gone—she assented, authorizing a $19.5 million payment. She told investigators Kurland said she could earn $300,000 a month in interest alone, which she requested be donated to charity. Ten days later, the government alleged, Kurland, given direct access to her bank account, took out another $19.5 million without her knowledge and funneled it to Chierchio for more PPE.
Perhaps predictably, Bear Mountain struggled to fulfill its contract with California, and the state pulled out of the deal. (King didn’t respond to requests for comment; he hasn’t been accused of any crimes.) It’s not clear how many masks Chierchio ultimately sold or where he was getting them. Court filings point to China, though Vietnam and “Bill Gates’s factory” were also invoked on phone calls as possible sources. Whatever California received, it ultimately paid Chierchio about $7 million, most of which he was accused of keeping for himself. As for the second $19.5 million investment Kurland got from his lotto client, it doesn’t seem to have been invested at all. Chierchio appears to have kept $15.5 million for himself and divided the rest between his Miami associate’s daughter and an entity controlled by Smookler and Russo. None of the $39 million made it back to the lottery winner, or to charity.
By May 2020, with the PPE money gone and Altieri about to be charged, Kurland was impressing upon his colleagues the gravity of their situation. “Every f—ing dollar we make,” he told Russo, “should go back to paying out debt, before anybody gets a dollar.” He pointed the finger at them. “I had no idea that we took—you paid yourselves, you bought cars, you used money for stuff,” he said. “I’m not a stockbroker. I’m not—this is not what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Speaking to Kurland, Russo and Smookler tended to soothe and parry. Among themselves, they ran the gamut of the seven stages of grief. There was denial (“We were normal guys running a fund that he just put on steroids,” Russo said). There was bargaining (“I would sign up for that right now,” Smookler mused, of a possible $1 million fine). Chierchio, evidently not grieving, had a different philosophy altogether. “Remember,” he reasoned at one point, “you and I did not hit the lotto for $1.5 billion.”
In the end, Smookler and Russo arrived at a grim acceptance that prosecution was inevitable. “I think they paint [the lottery winners] as the naive victims, they paint Jason as the mastermind lawyer, and they paint us as the behind-the-scenes guys,” Smookler said on one call. “You got gangsters involved, you got famous lawyers involved, you got billionaires, you got the lottery, you got a case there.”
In August 2020 they were charged, along with Kurland and Chierchio. Between the looted merchant cash advance investments, the disappeared Ponzi money, and the PPE that wasn’t, the men were accused of improperly siphoning $107 million from former lottery winners and stealing or losing about $80 million of that outright. All except Russo were released on bail; the government cited his violent threats to Altieri, denying him release.
As the trial approached, dominoes began to topple. First Smookler pleaded guilty, copping to defrauding the lottery winners of $45 million and trying to extort Altieri. (Shortly thereafter, Smookler won a fishing competition in the Virgin Islands, hauling in a 39-pound mahi-mahi.) Russo, who’d apparently run out of money and was being represented by a court-appointed lawyer, pleaded guilty months later. Weeks before the trial, Chierchio joined them. The three await sentencing.
There’s something about the lottery lawyer affair that lends itself to an overactive imagination. This spring, I made one of my treks to Long Island, checking out various homes owned by Kurland’s alleged co-conspirators, then trying his house. I’d called him, sent emails, and wheedled his lawyers to let him tell me his side of the story, to no avail.
I walked past a black SUV in Kurland’s driveway—a wrapped Lincoln Navigator, maybe—and rang the doorbell. A full three minutes later, as a dog barked at me through a window, Lauren came to the door. She was pleasant but looked beleaguered. Through a barely cracked door, she told me her husband was at work. Rivkin Radler had fired him after his arrest; she wouldn’t say who employed him now. I asked how things were, you know, going. “Horrific,” she replied, looking at me like it was the dumbest question in the world. I scrawled out a little please-speak-to-me message for Kurland and headed home.
I started driving back and soon noticed a red sedan behind me. Affixed to the passenger headrest was an alarming Friday the 13th-style hockey mask. I chuckled and made eye contact with the driver, hoping to indicate I was in on the joke, but he just stared ahead. As the car followed me through three consecutive exits, I became less jolly. Careening onto the expressway, I took yet another exit and lost the driver—and, with him, my chance to become a character, if a doomed one, in the lottery lawyer’s tale.
The men implicated in Kurland’s case also seemed to regard themselves as supporting characters in someone else’s plot. Russo, during a wiretapped call, mused that it wasn’t “Joe Pesci” or “the guy from The Sopranos” who’d tried to take down his grandfather, but the feds. (Russo’s grandfather died in April, while awaiting trial on a federal racketeering case involving a Queens labor union.) At other times, Russo compared Altieri to the jeweler played by Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems and the drug dealer played by Edward Norton in 25th Hour.
And one day, after I’d left a message on Altieri’s home phone, his wife called me back and asked if I could help her get in touch with the journalist portrayed in Netflix’s Inventing Anna, about a fraudulent Manhattan socialite. She told me she couldn’t talk without clearing it with her lawyer, but she seemed sure that, when the time was right, she had a binge-worthy story to sell. “Watching The Tinder Swindler and Inventing Anna—this is as big,” she said.
Not long afterward, I reached Smookler on his cell. He spoke in a confiding, casual tone, clearly adept at running charm offensives. He told me he couldn’t do an interview before Kurland’s trial (he was slated to testify), and anyway: “I’m not going to be talking about this and doing that for nothing, right? This story is something that’s eventually going to have a big price tag on it.”
The core of Kurland’s legal defense appears to be, essentially: One of these guys isn’t like the other. “Unlike Chierchio, he is not accused of being a member of the Mafia; unlike Russo, he is not accused of threatening children,” Kurland’s attorney, Kasulis, wrote in a motion to sever Kurland’s case from that of his co-defendants. “The government, desperate for something sensational to claim about Mr. Kurland, avers only that he spent money on cars, clothing, and his taxes—perhaps forgetting that he was a nationally recognized attorney with a profitable practice.”
The Allegedly Waylaid Lottery Loot
Sea & Sand Trust (Mangal)
The Healthy Rainbow People
Anonymous South Carolina Winner
Kasulis accompanied his motion (which was later denied) with more than 100 pages of excerpted phone conversations purporting to demonstrate that his client was effectively tricked by his business partners. Even as Smookler and Russo were placating Kurland about the missing cash, Kasulis claimed, they were conspiring to keep it missing. On May 20, 2020, the same day Russo reassured Kurland that his clients’ PPE investments were “looking pretty,” he told Chierchio, “I want to get [a] f—ing $100 million line of credit out of Jason … I don’t care about paying him back … . That’s my whole plan, is not to give him back a dollar.” A week later, sounding like a parody of a 1920s gangster, Russo added to his pile of incriminating boasts. “I treated Jay like a duck, like a chicken. I talked to him like prey.”
Kasulis further argued that Kurland was waylaid by factors beyond his control. Kurland’s clients lost money in the merchant cash advance business, Kasulis said, not because Kurland raided the accounts, but because he fell prey to a Ponzi scheme. In general, Kasulis argued, Kurland had steered his clients into businesses he’d taken a stake in because he believed in them so much.
Whether Kurland’s case determines he was a crook or just a bad investor, it should serve as a cautionary tale for future lottery winners. If you’ve won a few hundred mill and you’re reading this, consider stuffing your winnings under your mattress instead. Then again, you could always call the Powerball Lawyer. If it all ends in bankruptcy, at least you can pitch the story to Hulu.