Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Forfeiture Of Chinatown Building That Housed Illegal Gambling Operations
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the settlement of a civil forfeiture action against a six-story Chinatown building, appraised at approximately $17 million, located at 35-37 East Broadway (the “Building”) in New York City. The settlement between the United States and the owner of the Building, Won & Har Realty Corporation (“Won & Har”) followed a ruling, by U.S. District Judge Harold Baer, Jr., that the Building was subject to forfeiture because it had been used in furtherance of illegal gambling and Won & Har was not an innocent owner. Judge Baer also approved today’s settlement.
According to public documents filed in Manhattan federal court:
For at least the two years prior to the filing of a civil forfeiture complaint in May 2012, the Building consistently hosted a group of illegal gambling operators offering various gambling options, including pai gow poker and computer-based slot machine games. For nearly a year after a search conducted by law enforcement in 2011, which resulted in the seizure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in gambling proceeds, illegal gambling continued to be conducted openly in the Building, within full view of any passersby in the Building’s public hallways. In addition, a large sign advertising gambling was displayed on the front of the Building.
In its ruling, the Court rejected Won & Har’s “innocent owner” defense, finding that despite Won & Har’s knowledge of the ongoing gambling in the Building, the company failed to take all reasonable steps to terminate the illegal conduct. The Court cited Won & Har’s failure to investigate whether gambling was continuing in the Building in drawing the conclusion that Won & Har was willfully blind to the illegal use of its Building.
Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, Won & Har will forfeit the Building to the United States. The United States will sell the Building, retain 65% of the proceeds of the sale after accounting for the costs of selling the Building, and return the remainder of the proceeds to Won & Har.
Mr. Bharara praised the efforts of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York Asset Identification and Removal Group, HSI New York’s Gang Unit, the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Manhattan Vice Unit, NYPD’s Asset Forfeiture Unit, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air Unit. He also thanked the New York County District Attorney’s Office for their assistance.
Assistant United States Attorneys Alexander J. Wilson and Christine I. Magdo are in charge of the civil forfeiture action.