New York City

Brooklyn man sentenced to jail time raises questions of ability to pay restitution

December 24, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A Brooklyn man accused of running a high-stakes illegal poker game in New York City has been sentenced to a six-month prison term and ordered to forfeit $250,000. The defendant’s lawyer asserts that his client is broke and is unsure how the demanded money forfeiture will be satisfied.

Kirill Rapoport, 41, was charged in April 2013 in a 34-defendant indictment charging alleged members and associates of two organized crime enterprises with various crimes, including racketeering, money laundering, extortion and various gambling offenses.

According to the indicting papers filed by Manhattan’s U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara, Rapoport ran high-stakes illegal poker games through 2012-2013.  The pots of these games frequently reach tens of thousands of dollars with Rapoport, and other operators, collecting a percentage of the pot.

It was the government’s contention that Rapoport often used threats of violence to collect on unpaid poker debts. In particular, the government cited an October 2012 incident where “Federal Bureau of Investigation agents observed [Rapoport] and two mixed martial arts fighters go to meet with a player in…[one of the] poker games, who based on earlier interceptions appeared to be delinquent in playing…debts.”  

The FBI, worrying that the martial arts fighters could do some actual harm, asked the New York Police Department to step in under the guise of a report of marijuana smoking in the vicinity.

Rapoport was arrested and pleaded guilty in August 2013 and faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison. “Kirill Rapoport oversaw illegal gambling enterprises in the Southern District of New York. With [his]  plea[], we move closer to holding to account all those who participated in this wide-ranging network of criminal conduct,” Bharara said at the time of the arrest.

A plea deal allowed for Rapoport to be sentenced to a six-month prison sentence and a forfeiture of $250,000. Rapoport’s attorney, Jay Schwtizman, was shocked that his client received any prison time.

“I am disappointed that he received a jail sentence,” Schwitzman, the president of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “The United States Probation Department submitted a detailed report of the offense and Mr. Rapoport’s background and recommended no jail.”

While Schwitzman and his client are disappointed at the sentence, there is even more concern of Rapoport’s ability to pay the demanded $250,000. Speaking with the Daily News, Schwitzman claimed that Rapoport is a nearly poor immigrant who fled the Soviet Union and had to borrow dress shoes for court appearances.

In New York state, the entity responsible for collecting money judgments is the Central Restitution Unit, a division of the Department of Probation. In general, if an individual is unable to pay the restitution, probation may be revoked.

Federal Rules of Procedure as well as New York rules initially require that monies are paid directly to government. If monies cannot be paid, the government will place a lien on any property a defendant owns, and any future wages that the defendant earns will be garnished until the judgment is satisfied.

This may cause a problem for previously incarcerated persons. For example, according to an Urban Institute study, only 30 percent of formerly imprisoned individuals find legal employment. With such a low number of persons with criminal records receiving taxable employment, the likelihood of the government being able to attach a garnishment to wages is significantly reduced.

A significant penalty for not paying a money judgment is that one’s driver’s license is suspended and in some states, one may lose his/her voting rights—only to be reinstated after full restitution is made.

In New York, specifically, payment of restitution is a part of one’s sentence. For Rapoport, while he may be released from prison after six months, his sentence is not terminated until he pays in full the $250,000 judgment. During his time behind bars, as a felon, Rapoport’s voting rights are suspended and will remain in suspension until restitution is satisfied.

A spokesperson from the New York State Department of Corrections informed the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that if a felon can prove that he or she is truly unable to make restitution payments, they may appeal to the sentencing judge for a reduction of amount or a complete dismissal of the restitution requirement.

It is unclear whether Rapoport intends to make such an appeal to U.S. District Court Judge Jesse M. Furman.  

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