Normally the list of pardons handed out by a presidential administration doesn’t reach the level of making news in the gaming community. That changed on January 20, when two key figures in the annals of gaming saw their sentences either commuted (declared over) or pardoned (outright stricken from the record) during the changeover in government in Washington, D. C. The actions are something that each person, whether involved in gaming or not, will have to weigh to ascertain whether it was worthy or not.
Russian Gambling Ring Raises Its Head Again
In the first pardon, art dealer Hillel “Helly” Nahmad was officially pardoned for his part in a sports gambling ring. Nahmad had served a five-month prison sentence in 2014 for being one of the leaders of the ring and paid out $30,000 in fines, forfeited $6.4 million in earnings and completed a gambling addiction program. Nahmad had pled guilty to those charges previously but, with the pardon, it is wiped off his record (he’s not getting the financial side back, however).
The “sports gambling ring” was a major story in the early 2010s. The ring was allegedly operated by Nahmad and a then-major player in the poker world, Vadim Trincher. Trincher and Nahmad were the U. S. end of what was a major Russian operation that was led by notorious Russian crime lord Alimzhan ‘Taiwanchik’ Toktakhounov. The “Taiwanchik-Trincher Organization,” as it was dubbed by federal prosecutors, reportedly funneled more than $100 million to the Russian mob before it was broken up.
Other big names in the poker community were also charged with participating in the gaming ring. Players such as William “Bill” Edler, Peter Feldman, Abe Mosseri and Justin ‘BoostedJ’ Smith were charged and pled guilty to a variety of gaming crimes associated with the Russian ring. Perhaps most notably, Molly Bloom of Molly’s Game fame was caught up in the same case, although she was able to skate away with no prison time and a menial fine.
In a statement from the outgoing White House personnel, they noted that Nahmad had “lived an exemplary life and has been dedicated to the well-being of his community” since his release from prison. Something else that didn’t hurt? Nahmad once owned the entirety of the 51st floor at Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Sports Bettor Gets Reprieve for Non-Sports Activity
The other pardon handed out to a gaming figure hits a bit closer to Las Vegas and the sports betting world. Earning one of the final pardons handed out, sports bettor/businessman Billy Walters will see his prison term ended after receiving one of the reprieves from the outgoing administration. According to reports, he is expected to be out before the Super Bowl, which will be played in February.
Walters was one of the biggest faces on the sports betting scene in Las Vegas, known for making big wagers on major sporting events. He was able to draw quite the circle of friends, including professional golfer Phil Mickelson, but it all came crashing down around him in 2017. Convicted for insider trading, Walters was sentenced to five years in prison and a $10 million fine. Despite evidence that he may have benefitted from Walters’ information Mickelson – who was allegedly behind $2 million in gambling debts to Walters – avoided jail time.
USA Today quoted Walters in a statement that was hardly one that was indicative of his guilt. “I am thankful to the President and extremely grateful for the longstanding support of friends and family, especially my wife, Susan. I have tried to lead a life marked by concern for others and I hope those qualities, along with the government misconduct that led to my wrongful conviction, convinced the White House to grant me clemency. I also hope this sends a strong message to law enforcement to refrain from illegal misconduct in pursuing their targets. I look forward to vindication as I pursue my civil damages case in federal court.”
These two instances, along with the brother of former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher’s brother Casey (charged with recruiting players for an illegal offshore gaming operation) were the only gaming figures that received pardons from the outgoing administration. There were 143 pardons and commutations issued as the administration exited government.