Betting Ring Busted in New York

19 October 2004

Eight individuals from Long Island and New York City were arrested Thursday after a six-month investigation into a betting ring that brought in $35 million a year.

The investigation included law enforcement officials from the Rackets Bureau, the District Attorney's Squad, the Electronic Squad and the Narcotics/Vice Squad of the Nassau County Police Department.

The alleged ringleader, 47-year-old Leonard Catalano, is believed to have run the business from his home for the past 20 years. Nassau District Attorney Denis Dillon said Catalano was servicing more than 2,500 bettors and that it was one of the largest the DA's office had seen in years.

After years of allegedly acting as a bookie, Catalano, who also goes by "Smalls" or "The Bearded One," is said to have launched an offshore Web site (with servers based in Costa Rica and Curacao) to accommodate his regular customers by taking bets online. The Internet site was eventually expanded to include an online casino. There was also a companion toll-free service for taking bets over the phone.

Catalano allegedly hired locals in Costa Rica and Curacao to staff wire rooms where the telephone bets were placed and online bets were monitored.

The other seven individuals charged are accomplices referred to by Dillon as "runners," who collected money in the New York area.

Phil Tomich, chief of the Rackets Bureau, said most of Catalano's operation was channeled through the Internet, with all the financial transactions taking place in New York. Tomich said that as technology continues to advance so does the criminal element in society.

"We are starting to see more and more of this type of business being conducted on the Internet," he said. "We are not out there looking for it; that is for sure. But we don't have our head in the sands and aren't oblivious to the concept either. The sense that I get is that a lot of this is being done online."

Others arrested include Christopher Murray, 62, of Setauket, Catalano's business partner; Scott Burger, 34, of Bohemia, Catalano's accountant; Michael Silano, 51, of Port Jefferson Station; John Trombino, 69, of Grand Central Pkwy., Bellerose, who collected money for Catalano; Paul Silano, 35, a bookmaker, and his girlfriend, Lori Barecca, 39, both of 76-52 263rd St., Glen Oaks, Queens; and Henry Acierno, 50, of 26 Pouch Dr., Staten Island, a bookmaker.

All but Barecca were charged with one count of first-degree promoting gambling, a crime punishable by up to four years in prison. Barecca, who prosecutors said passed information vital to Paul Silano's bookmaking business, was charged with fourth-degree criminal facilitation, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

All pleaded not guilty and were released without bail.

Tomich said the investigation is ongoing and the DA's office will continue to study the facts and work with the defendants' attorneys. If agreements can't be worked out, he said, a grand jury indictment will be sought.

The Catalano ring was discovered during the course of another investigation, Tomich said, involving one of the runners. He said the DA's office was given some information about the betting operation and began monitoring with wiretaps and other electronic surveillance.