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Lucchese crime family soldier charged with operating gambling business

September 15, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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On Wednesday, in federal court in Brooklyn, an indictment was unsealed charging six defendants for their roles in overseeing and operating a large-scale illegal, online gambling business under the protection of the Lucchese organized crime family.  

In operation for more than 15 years, 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, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

Four of the defendants, Lucchese crime family solider Anthony Villani and associates Louis Tucci Jr., Dennis Filizzola and James Coumoutsos, were arrested at their residences in the New York area and were arraigned Wednesday afternoon by United States Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann, E.D.N.Y.  

A fifth defendant, bookmaker Michael Praino, was arrested in West Palm Beach, Florida and made his initial appearance in federal court in West Palm Beach.

As charged in the indictment, defendant Anthony Villani, an alleged Lucchese solider, oversaw a large-scale illegal gambling business called Rhino Sports (the “Gambling Business”).  The Gambling Business was in continuous operation from at least 2004 through December 2020.  

During that period, the Gambling 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 Gambling Business’ 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, the indictment charges.  

Villani’s bookmakers allegedly included members and associates of the Lucchese crime family and other La Cosa Nostra families.  As part of the scheme, Villani employed co-conspirators Louis Tucci Jr. and Dennis 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 over $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 co-defendant Filizzola used gambling proceeds to purchase U.S. Postal Service money orders disguised as rent payments to a property owned by Villani.  Furthermore, between April 2020 and October 2020, Villani is alleged to have attempted to extort an individual identified as John Doe in the indictment by telling John Doe: “I’m telling you right now, you don’t get this money – [expletive] run away.” 

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 charges. 

“As alleged, this conduct demonstrates how members of La Cosa Nostra continue to engage in illegal gambling operations and money laundering money-marking schemes that lead to threats of violence against anyone who stands in their way and has resulted in millions of dollars in profits to the Luchese crime family,” said U.S. Attorney Peace. “These charges illustrate this office’s continued commitment to rooting La Cosa Nostra out of New York.” 

Mr. Peace thanked the New York City Police Department, the New York State Police and the Westchester County Police for their assistance in the investigation.

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