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Forfeits $500,000 in Assets, Including Autos and Rare Baseball Card Collection

District Attorney Richard A. Brown today announced that the ringleader and major bookmaker in a highly sophisticated criminal enterprise allegedly controlled by the Bonanno organized crime family – and his fiancé – have pleaded guilty in connection with a long-term investigation into sports betting. The gambling ring handled illegal wagers on horse racing, professional baseball and football and other sporting events that totaled a staggering $360 million over a two-year period. Three other defendants, including the Mets’ former head groundskeeper and a Long Island attorney, pleaded guilty in connection with the case earlier this week.

District Attorney Brown identified today’s defendants as Christopher Bruno, 34, of 4022 Jean Avenue in Bethpage, New York, and his fiancé, Cheryl O'Connor, 24, of 267 Nassau Street, Brooklyn.

Appearing before Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard L. Buchter, defendant Bruno pleaded guilty to Enterprise Corruption and was ordered to immediately forfeit $510,00 in cash, investment accounts and vehicles. Among the forfeited items, said District Attorney Brown, are a 2003 Mercedes Benz valued at $95,000, a 2002 GMC Denali valued at $29,000 and a rare baseball card collection reportedly worth as much as $300,000. Sentencing has been adjourned to November 15, 2005, at which time Bruno will be sentenced to three to nine years in state prison. The defendant O’Connor pleaded guilty to Conspiracy in the Fifth Degree and was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge.

District Attorney Brown said, “Asset forfeiture is one of the most effective weapons in the government’s arsenal. In this case, our law enforcement efforts not only resulted in a felony conviction and significant prison time for the principal defendant in the criminal enterprise but separated him from the fruits of his crime, as well.”

District Attorney Brown continued, “As a result of this prosecution, we have closed down a highly lucrative gambling operation that benefitted the Bonanno crime family to the tune of millions of dollars each year. This case sends a clear signal to all who involve themselves in illegal gambling that law enforcement will keep up the pressure and not allow them to operate. Organized crime reaps huge profits from illegal gambling that evade taxation and underwrite its other more insidious forms of corruption, such as labor racketeering, drug trafficking, auto theft, insurance fraud and loan sharking. Illegal gambling is by no means a victimless crime – it provides the fuel that allows organized crime to operate.”

District Attorney Brown noted that the defendants were among thirty-six individuals charged three months ago with participating in a Bonanno organized crime family controlled gambling operation that ran wire rooms in Kew Garden Hills and Flushing, Queens, and off-shore in Costa Rica. Prosecutors estimated that the ring handled up to 2,000 bets daily – totaling $400,000 – on horse racing, baseball, football and other sporting events and booked over $2.5 million in one day during the 2005 NFL Playoffs. Eleven of the defendants are also being sued civilly and have been named as respondents in a $360 million civil forfeiture action filed in Queens Supreme Court by the District Attorney’s Special Proceedings Bureau. The civil forfeiture action alleges that the eleven defendants engaged in a criminal enterprise that promoted illegal gambling activities and generated illegal bets amounting to about $360 million from April 2003 to April 2005.

The indictment charged that the defendant Bruno was the ringleader and major bookmaker in the enterprise and that he and his two partners, Joseph Amato, 40, of 439 North Queens Avenue in Massapequa, New York, and Dana Antal, 36, of 606 Martz Road in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, managed the ring’s day-to-day operations, settling bettor disputes, authorizing and accounting the debts and payouts and supervising numerous, lower-ranking employees.

District Attorney Brown said that the criminal enterprise reportedly handled about 2,000 bets each day that generated gross revenues of nearly $400,000 daily, $15 million a month and $180 million a year during the 28-month period covered by the indictment. It is alleged to have relied on modern technology to generate its criminal proceeds, including computers, the Internet, e-mail and AOL instant messaging to and a toll-free telephone number that ran up a monthly bill of over $50,000.

According to District Attorney Brown, the ring used 25 “runners”who maintained lists of bettors, paid their winnings and collected their losses and recruited new bettors to the bookmaking enterprise. It is further alleged that each of the ring’s “runners” in exchange for a share of the ring’s gambling profits managed his own group of bettors by accepting and relaying bets or by providing bettors with a phone number and runner's code for a particular wire room, then settling up their bettors' win-loss amounts.

District Attorney Brown noted that three of the runners – attorney Marc Rovner, 42, of 15 Oxford Road in East Rockaway; Eric Bard, 38, of 119 Grohmans Lane in Plainview; and former Mets head groundskeeper Dominic Valila,39, of 383 Plainfield Avenue in Floral Park, Long Island – pleaded guilty earlier this week to Promoting Gambling in the First Degree in connection with their roles in the gambling operation. Valila and Bard were each sentenced to three-year conditional discharges, and Valila was ordered to forfeit $9,200 in cash that had been seized at the time of his arrest. Sentencing for Rovner was adjourned to September 15, 2005, and, in addition, to forfeiting $31,039 in cash seized at the time of his arrest, Rovner was ordered to surrender his law license prior to sentencing.

District Attorney Brown expressed his appreciation to the detectives assigned to the New York City Police Department's Organized Crime Control Bureau, the District Attorney’s New York City Police Department Squad and his New York State Police Unit, and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance’s Revenue Crimes Bureau for their assistance during the lengthy investigation.

Assistant District Attorneys Peri A. Kadanoff, Chief of Auto Crime and Insurance Fraud Unit, and Suzanne H. Sullivan, of the District Attorney's Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau prosecuted today’s cases under the supervision of Assistant District Attorneys Gerard A. Brave, Bureau Chief, and Marc P. Resnick, Deputy Bureau Chief, and the overall supervision of Executive Assistant District Attorney for Investigations Peter A. Crusco and Deputy Executive Assistant District Attorney for Investigations Linda M. Cantoni.