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ICE, NYPD break up NY/Costa Rican gambling ring

Cars purchased by gambling ring

An illegal gambling ring based in Staten Island, NY with links to Costa Rica that brought in millions of dollars in sports betting was shut down by federal and local law enforcement agents, including officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the New York City Police Department.

ICE said its Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) worked with the NYPD  as part of the “El Dorado Task Force,” to arrest 28 people for participating in a multi-million dollar sports-betting ring that used several locations in Staten Island to operate.

ICE said a tip in March 2009 led ICE HSI agents and NYPD detectives to Monte's Video store on Manor Road, in Staten Island.  “Investigators soon learned that customers were not going to the store to rent videos. People were placing bets with the owner, Joseph "J.J." Stentella, 56, of Staten Island,” it said in a May 27 statement.

The ring used other locations as wire rooms that managed cash debts and winnings and assured accurate bets. However, ICE alleges Stentella and the others operating the ring moved their operations to Costa Rica after they became suspicious of an investigation. The group set up "Jerry's Worldwide Sports Book" and "Momo Sports Book” web sites where bettors could place their bets online.

The alleged bookies, said ICE, allegedly laundered up to a $100,000 a week in cash profits via FedEx to Florida or Arizona, which were couriered to Costa Rica. The money was also stashed in safe deposit boxes, or used to purchase expensive classic cars, and homes, as well as a rental property in Costa Rica, it said.

In all, ICE said HSI agents and NYPD Organized Crime detectives seized up to $5.7 million in assets used to facilitate or purchase, with the profits of the criminal enterprise, 14 valuable classic cars, three homes, commercial property and more than $50,000 in cash.

"The results of this take down are the product of each law enforcement agency's unique expertise and extraordinary cooperation during the course of the investigation. While pleased with this success, we are even more determined to work together to disrupt and dismantle other illegal operations that commit crimes against our nation's financial system," said ICE Director John Morton.

"The members of this ring sent millions of dollars of gambling proceeds through a makeshift video rental store on Staten Island that processed more sports bets than movie rentals," said Raymond Kelly, police commissioner for the City of New York. "They thought that no one would notice, but someone did, and as a result of the investigation by detectives from the NYPD's Vice Enforcement Division, the Staten Island DA's Office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, the sports betting operation, and the so-called video store, are no longer open for business."

"The operation we just took down could be the poster child for everything that is harmful about illegal gambling," said Daniel Donovan, district attorney for Richmond County. "It had a devastating effect on our communities, burying people under insurmountable debt - debt that destroyed families and, in some cases, businesses; it drove some to sell drugs and commit other crimes to support their vices; and it victimized honest taxpayers by cheating the government out of millions of dollars in taxable revenue,” he said.


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