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Three Westchester County residents were indicted in federal court last week in connection with an illegal gambling operation online under the protection of the Luchese organized crime family.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the gambling business, known as “Rhino Sports,” utilized an offshore website and dozens of bookmakers in the New York area to take millions in illegal sports bets.
“Members of the mafia are not giving up the tried-and-true methods of criminal behavior, even in the face of the burgeoning world of legal gambling,” Driscoll stated. “As we allege, a Luchese soldier and other family members ran an illegal gambling operation and offered their clientele the same twisted customer service: do what they say or face terrifying consequences. One thing these criminals can bet on – the FBI will continue our pursuit.”
Four of the five defendants, Luchese crime family solider Anthony Villani, 57, of Elmsford, and associates Louis Tucci, Jr., 59, of Tuckahoe, Dennis Filizzola, 58, of Cortlandt, and James Coumoutsos, 59, of the Bronx, were arrested at their residences. A fifth defendant, bookmaker Michael Praino, 44, of the Bronx, was arrested in West Palm Beach, Florida.
As alleged in the indictment and court filings, Villani oversaw Rhino Sports. The business was in continuous operation from at least 2004 through December 2020. During that period, the business was hosted online using offshore servers in Costa Rica and employed local bookmakers to pay and collect winnings in cash.
Records obtained from the Rhino Sports website indicated that Villani’s illegal gambling operation regularly took bets from between 400 and 1,300 bettors each week, most of whom were based in New York City and the metropolitan area. As alleged, Villani’s bookmakers regularly included members and associates of the Luchese crime family and other La Cosa Nostra families. As part of the scheme, Villani employed co-conspirators Tucci and Filizzola, as runners to assist in operating the business. Villani is alleged to have received more than $1 million annually from the business. During law enforcement searches related to this matter in December 2020, agents recovered more than $407,000 in cash from one of Villani’s residences, as well as brass knuckles and gambling ledgers.
The unsealed indictment charges Villani with racketeering in connection with participation in various criminal schemes, including illegal gambling, money laundering and attempted extortion. As one part of the money laundering, Villani and Filizzola used gambling proceeds to purchase U.S. Postal Service money orders disguised as rent payments to a property owned by Villani. In addition, between April 2020 and October 2020, Villani is alleged to have attempted to extort an individual identified as John Doe in the indictment, including by telling John Doe: “I’m telling you right now, you don’t get this money – [expletive] run away.”
New York State Police, Westchester County Police and the New York City Police Department assisted in the investigation.
Rick has more than 40 years’ experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, running the gamut from politics and crime to sports and human interest. He has been an editor at Examiner Media since 2012. Read more from Rick’s editor-author bio here. Read Rick’s work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/pezzullo_rick-writer/