Six in Albanian gambling ring operating in Astoria convicted

By Nathan Duke

Prosecutors said the enterprise known as The Corporation has dozens of members who worked with and rivaled the Luchese and Gambino crime families. The syndicate is also referred to as the Rudaj Organization after leader Alex Rudaj. The U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District said syndicate leaders used violent tactics to set up an illegal gambling business that primarily operated in Astoria, but also featured locations in Bayside, the Bronx and Westchester County. Between 2001 and 2004, the Rudaj Organization operated a number of illegal gambling sites in Astoria, including operations at 23rd and 30th Avenues and 31st Street, according to prosecutors. The six members of the Albanian crime family, including founders Rudaj, 38, who lives in Yorktown Heights, and Nardino Colotti, 43, who lives in the Bronx, were convicted of racketeering, extortion, firearms offenses, loansharking, extortionate debt collection and operation of a large-scale illegal gambling business, the U.S. attorney's office said. The other four convicted syndicate members were Nikola Dedaj, 42, of Yonkers; Ljusa Nuculovic, 47, of Hopewell Junction; Angelo DiPietro, 49, of Hopewell Junction; and Prenka Ivezaj, 40, who lives in Queens, said the U.S. Attorney's office.The six defendants comprise the top leadership in the syndicate – Rudaj, Colotti , Dedaj and Nuculovic plus two high-ranking lieutenants, Ivezaj and DiPietro , the U.S. attorney's office said.The six Corporation members were scheduled to be sentenced April 7 before U.S. District Judge Denise Cote. Rudaj, Colotti, Dedaj, Ivezaj and Nuculovic face seven years to life, while DiPietro, who was convicted of similar charges in July, faces 32 years to life, the U.S. attorney said.In addition, a seventh defendant, Gjelosh Lelcaj, pleaded guilty prior to the Corporation trial to racketeering offenses and illegal re-entry into the United States, thereby avoiding trial, prosecutors said.In October 2004, more than 20 members and associates of the Rudaj Organization were charged with various offenses, including illegal gambling. Eight additional defendants have pleaded guilty to gambling offenses, one has entered a guilty plea to attempted extortion charges and five more face trial in the future on gambling charges, the office said.The syndicate was formed in 1993 and operated a massive network of illegal gambling parlors, gambling machines and bookmaking operations, often using violent tactics to expand their operation, according to the U.S. attorney's office.In the 1990s, the Corporation took control of illegal gambling operations in sections of the Bronx and Westchester County. In June 2001, the organization violently seized illegal gambling operations in Astoria, which had been under the control of the Luchese crime family, the U.S. attorney's office said. Five of the defendants and other Corporation members severely beat a member of the Astoria gambling community to send a message that the Rudaj Organization was taking control of gambling in the area, the office said.In August 2001, the six defendants and other organization members stormed a gambling house owned by a Gambino family associate and shut it down, according to prosecutors. The U.S. attorney's office said the Corporation committed numerous acts of violence and intimidation to expand its Astoria gambling operation.During a separate standoff at a New Jersey gas station between Rudaj Organization members and Gambino Crime Family associates, Dedaj pointed a gun at a gas pump and threatened to blow everyone up, the U.S. attorney said.According to the U.S. Attorney's office, approximately 30 people have been identified as Rudaj Organization members who are paid a weekly salary. In addition, evidence showed that 120 to 150 people in Astoria worked in the various gambling clubs run by the organization or paid protection money in the form of illegal gambling machine proceeds, said the U.S. attorney's office. Reach reporter Nathan Duke by email at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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