“Lottery Lawyer” Sentenced To 13 Years In Prison For His Role In Schemes To Defraud Lottery Winner Clients Of More Than $100 Million
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that JASON KURLAND, a New York lawyer, and CHRISTOPHER CHIERCHIO were sentenced today and yesterday for their participation in schemes to defraud KURLAND’s prominent lottery-winning clients of more than $100 million. KURLAND, who was convicted at trial in July 2022 of wire fraud, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, was sentenced to 13 years in prison. CHIERCHIO, who pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, was sentenced to five years in prison. U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis imposed both sentences.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “The trial of Jason Kurland proved that Kurland violated his solemn duties as a lawyer and as an officer of the Court by stealing and misappropriating more than $100 million from his clients, who were some of the largest lottery winners in U.S. history. Just before trial, Christopher Chierchio pled guilty to assisting Kurland in this fraud, while personally pocketing more than $25 million of the lottery winners’ money. Now, the sentences imposed by Judge Garaufis show that for these defendants who made the lottery winners their victims, their luck has run out, and this Office will prosecute anyone who chooses to engage in fraud – no matter their title or degree.”
According to the Indictment, the evidence presented in court during trial, and other statements made during court proceedings:
Between mid-2018 and mid-2020, KURLAND was a successful partner at a Long Island law firm, earning approximately $500,000 in annual compensation. Through public advertisements and self-promotion, KURLAND built a niche practice representing lottery jackpot winners across the country. KURLAND marketed himself widely in the national media as the “Lottery Lawyer,” touting expertise in counseling individuals and families who had won lotteries and consequently achieved sudden wealth. KURLAND purported to represent dozens of lottery winners throughout the country with total winnings of approximately $3 billion.
Beginning in mid-2018, KURLAND retained three major lottery winners — one won the $1.5 billion Mega Millions lottery, another won the $245 million Powerball jackpot, and the third won the $150 million jackpot (together, the “Lottery Victims”). The Lottery Victims each paid KURLAND and his law firm hundreds of thousands of dollars so that he could advise them on how to safely invest their money. Instead, after gaining their trust, KURLAND steered his clients to invest in various risky businesses that he secretly co-owned and controlled with co-defendants Francis Smookler and Frangesco Russo, among others. In addition to ownership profits from these businesses, KURLAND received undisclosed kickbacks based on a percentage of the Lottery Victims’ investments. The defendants then used the money from the Lottery Victims’ investments to keep their scheme going and to support their lavish lifestyles, purchasing, among other things, expensive vacations and luxury vehicles, including two yachts and a Porsche.
In text messages and intercepted phone calls, KURLAND and his co-defendants brazenly gloated about defrauding the Lottery Victims. For example, when KURLAND learned that he had retained the first Lottery Victim, he texted Russo, “Have to figure out how to have this get to us,” referring to KURLAND’s desire to direct the Lottery Victim’s money to their businesses. KURLAND used the unique attorney-client relationship, which is founded on principles of honesty and loyalty, to his advantage, ensuring that he and his co-defendants secured multimillion-dollar investments. Following a pre-investment client meeting with one Lottery Victim, KURLAND texted Smookler and Russo, “haven’t talked about the investment yet, but I could not have teed it up better[.]” Shortly thereafter, that Lottery Victim invested $5 million in one of the defendants’ businesses without knowledge of KURLAND’s ownership in the business. On a separate occasion, after KURLAND convinced one of the Lottery Victims to unknowingly purchase his and his co-defendants’ entire business for $2 million — a transaction that resulted in a large payout to KURLAND and his co-defendants — KURLAND bragged to Smookler in a text: “Like looking at my bank statement today. Not gonna lie.” Motivated by greed, KURLAND and the co-defendants haphazardly invested the Lottery Victims’ money in high-risk deals, which turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. As it became apparent that their high-risk investments were in peril, KURLAND texted Smookler, “let me know if I’m keeping the Panamera [a Porsche model], or have to go back to my Lexus.” Within a little more than a year, a large portion of the Lottery Victims’ investment capital, totaling more than $40 million, was lost.
In April 2020, in an effort to try to recoup their losses and conceal their fraud from the Lottery Victims, KURLAND, Russo, and Smookler resorted to investing in Personal Protective Equipment (“PPE”) deals. CHIERCHIO was the middleman for the PPE deals. CHIERCHIO quickly capitalized on KURLAND’s precarious situation and need for quick returns, egging him on to “go deep with me here” and promising that KURLAND could “make all [his] losses back.” In turn, KURLAND stole $19.5 million from one of the Lottery Victims’ accounts. Only a portion of this money was ever used for the purported PPE deals while millions of dollars were skimmed off the top by CHIERCHIO and the other co-defendants. In total, KURLAND’s misrepresentations, along with the actions of his co-defendants, caused the Lottery Victims losses in excess of $80 million, as well as an additional $19.5 million that was stolen by KURLAND directly from one of the Lottery Victims.
* * *
In addition to their prison terms, KURLAND, 49, of Dix Hills, New York, and CHIERCHIO, 54, of Queens, New York, were sentenced to three years of supervised release. KURLAND was ordered to pay $64,600,000 in forfeiture, and his restitution will be determined by the Court within 90 days of today’s sentencing. CHIERCHIO was further ordered to pay $26,550,000 in forfeiture and $30,550,000 in restitution.
Mr. Williams praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on this case.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Danielle Kudla, Louis A. Pellegrino, and Olga Zverovich from the Southern District of New York, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Morris from the Eastern District of New York are in charge of the prosecution.