Seven busted for operating an illegal sports betting book out of an Astoria building

Photo via Getty Images

Law enforcement agents raided an illegal sports gambling office in Astoria this week and arrested seven individuals connected to its operation, prosecutors announced.

According to acting Queens District Attorney John Ryan, the bookmaking operation used an 800 number and a wire room based in Costa Rica to take illegal bets on sporting events from January 2016 until the June 4 raid.

Leading the operation was Centerpoint, Long Island resident Michael Regan, 61, who Ryan said acted as the alleged boss/bookmaker. He employed five other Queens residents arrested with him on Tuesday: Robert Brieger, 70, of Rego Park; Luan Bexheti, 47, of Astoria; Gerald Schneider, 67, of Middle Village; Robert Utnick, 54, of Bayside; and Lisa Nino, 36, of Middle Village. Also cuffed was another alleged associate, John Ottomano, 53, of Roslyn, Long Island.

They were each variously charged in a 39-count indictment with enterprise corruption, promoting gambling and money laundering.

“This office, working collaboratively with our law enforcement colleagues, have taken down a number of illegal gambling operations over the years,” Ryan said. “Putting these kinds of illegal enterprises out of business saves untold numbers of people from financial devastation.”

Law enforcement sources said the NYPD Criminal Enterprise Division began an investigation into the Astoria sports book began in January 2016 and used an array of techniques to build their case — including physical surveillance, court-authorized wiretaps and electronic eavesdropping.

In doing so, they were able to intercept thousands of incriminating conversations and text messages related to the ring’s operation as well as loan sharking.

The operation was based out of a wire room located at 45-10 30th Ave. in Astoria.

The wire room site on 30th Avenue in Astoria (Photo via Google Maps)

Police established that Regan allegedly oversaw the entire operation, taking a cut of every placed bet for himself. Brieger allegedly worked as Regan’s master agent, head clerk and accounts manager, while Bexheti — whom prosecutors described as Regan’s “close associate” — allegedly acted as a runner and agent.

Authorities said that Schneider allegedly served as agent and manager of the Astoria wire room, while Utnick and Ottomano allegedly worked as agents and runners. Finally, Nino allegedly acted as the Astoria office’s clerk and runner.

During the course of their investigation, prosecutors said, NYPD officers allegedly observed various ring members meeting in Queens and Nassau County and exchanging money contained in white envelopes or bags.

While arresting suspects in Queens and Nassau County on Tuesday, police seized gambling records along with computers and $47,000 in cash.

Six of the seven suspects were arraigned in Queens Criminal Court on Tuesday and released on their own recognizance; Brieger was picked up in Costa Rica and is awaiting extradition back to Queens. Except for Brieger, the perpetrators are due back in court on July 16.

“The NYPD and its law enforcement partners are committed to driving down crime beyond the current historical lows in New York City,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said. “It is due to this cooperation that this investigation involving enterprise corruption has successfully resulted in this indictment.”

Sports gambling remains illegal in New York state, although one local lawmaker is seeking to legalize it.