The massive 2013 crackdown on the major New City-based gambling ring with ties to both prominent poker figures and associates of the Russian Mob continues to wind its way forward in the courts, spinning off an occasional entertaining tale or two. One of those tales has just emerged amid the nearly 700 court filings made to date in connection with the case.
This latest tale involves New York City art dealer Hillel “Helly” Nahmad, who along with Illya Trincher (the son of 2009 WPT winner Vadim Trincher) are alleged to have been the primary operators of the principle illegal sportsbetting operations at the heart of the investigation and crackdown. The sportsbetting operation, called the “Nahmad-Trincher” ring by prosecutors, maintained both live and online sportsbetting operations and is the general area of the investigation where many of the famed poker players were connected, usually accepting and communicating bets.
Not all of Nahmad’s alleged illegal activities had to do with his and Trincher’s sportsbetting sites, however, and that’s the core of today’s tale. Among the 34 defendants in the case, there is at least one who was not involved in the sportsbetting or illegally raked poker games at the heart of the complaint. That one is Nicholas Hirsch, who pled guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and was sentenced a week ago to probation.
The full relationship between Hirsch and Nahmad isn’t detailed, but according to court filings, Hirsch fell into the sphere of the greater investigation when he sought Helly Nahmad’s help in a separate illegal matter: Laundering $477,000 in unreported income that an American or British modeling friend of Hirsch’s (the model may have dual citizenship) had secreted away in a Bahamian bank account.
According to a sentencing submission in Hirsch’s case, the unnamed model had been separately contacting Italian bookies when she prevailed upon Hirsch — a “long time friend” — and Hirsch’s connections. One of Hirsch’s connections was Helly Nahmad, who in March of 2012, as the episode unfolded, was smack in the middle of being wiretapped in connection with his illegal gambling operations.
As for whether the ease in which Nahmad created a scheme to some of the model’s income while also selling merchandise and keeping $25,000 processing fees each for himself and Hirsch, and how that relates to his more famous business as an “international art dealer,” that’s best for each reader’s individual conjecture.
In any event, Hirsch contacted Nahmad, Nahmad came up with a plan for the model, and the feds captured it all on Memorex. This paragraph from the prosecution’s submission sums it up:
“Nicholas Hirsch came to know that a personal acquaintance of his (the “Victim”) had $477,000 dollars of modeling income, that the Victim had failed to pay taxes on, in an offshore account in the Bahamas. Hirsch put the Victim in touch with Helly Nahmad and assisted Nahmad in facilitating an arrangement whereby the Victim transferred the undeclared income from the account in the Bahamas to a Swiss account associated with Nahmad. In exchange for $177,000 of the undeclared money, Nahmad paid the Victim $100,000. In exchange for the remaining $300,000, Nahmad and Hirsch agreed that Nahmad would exchange a painting from Nahmad’s vast international art collection. Nahmad and Hirsch agreed that the painting to be exchanged was worth less than $300,000, but that Nahmad would convince the Victim that the paint was in fact worth $300,000. It is clear from wire intercepts that Nahmad and Hirsch intended to defraud the Victim with respect to the value of the painting. Hirsch received $25,000 for his participation in the fraud.”
That fraud — lying about the real value of painting Nahmad pawned off on the unsuspecting model, was part of the technical “wire fraud” count on which Hirsch eventually pled guilty. Though only charged in connection with that, Hirsch and Nahmad also engaged in a very telling exchange about laundering the money for the model and extracting their own fees for doing so, which the sentencing submission included, both in reference and excerpt.
At one point, Hirsch asked, “Is there a risk for her, though?”
Nahmad replied, “Fuck yea, see basically there is something called money laundering tracking and if they pin it back to [the Victim] …”
Later on, the submission included a complete, lengthy exchange between the pair. It makes for great reading:
Nahmad: This guy is raping her for 50 on one end, we’ll bury her for the [unintelligible] on the other end
Hirsch: I feel badly [unintelligble] her for 50 but fuck her
Nahmad: I know you scumbag, raping me for 25, I’m taking [unintelligible], I gotta get the shit across, I lose packages, I lose mean, I gotta take risks
Hirsch: Helly get the fuck out of here, dude, I just handed you, I just handed you 25 grand
Nahmad: You handed me 25, I handed you 25
Hirsch: Get the fuck out of here dude
Nahmad: Yo your fucking crazy Bro, yo you live on planet Mars, mother fucker, [unintelligible], what did you make two phone calls
Hirsch: Easiest money I ever made
Two weeks later, Hirsch checked in with Nahmad to make sure the wire transfers involved in the laundering had been completed. More great reading:
Nahmad: … Nick, I need to ask you a question, are we good to go on that wire transfer?
Hirsch: Yeah, I spoke, listen I spoke to her today, I spoke to her today and she said Nicky I am working all week, she goes, I’ll [unintelligible], she had to call the bank to get the forms and then she has to send them back down, it’s not going to happen till Thursday or Friday
Nahmad: Ohh no, are you serious
Hirsch: Yeah dude, well it takes, she has to get the forms, from the bank to do the wire, she can’t just call up and do it
Nahmad: Oh man are you serious?
Hirsch: I don’t know if you are being sarcastic or joking
Nahmad: She’s not bailing is she?
Hirsch: She was, she was hedging a little bit and I was like listen, [Victim], you don’t have to do this if you are nervous, you know what I mean, dah, dah, dah, dah, but then she was like you know what I opened the bank account with a British Passport, she’s like I am a British Citizen, I opened it with a British Passport they don’t have any US information, they don’t even know if I am a US Citizen, I was, she was like, I am not worried.
Nahmad: Yeah, by the way, she’s got nothing to worry about, that’s like really nothing to worry about
Hirsch: That’s what I said, I was like listen I was like if it was me I would do it but you know I don’t know what type of risk you want to take, I was like as far as I am concerned you’re already done the risky part, you’ve already broken the laws by not reporting, at this point you might as well just try to get away with it and she’s like I agree, so I had to like re-talk her into it, a little bit
Nahmad: [unintelligible] if she like lost a little bit of a of the momentum
Hirsch: Yeah but she’s now, she’s down, she was telling me she went to speak with somebody, by the end of the call she’s like I am in, let’s just do it, I’m going to get the information we’ll do it
Nahmad: Like I feel you gotta be like a little bit riding her on this
Hirsch: Don’t worry dude, she’s down, [the Victim]’s not like that
Nahmad: Ok, so just let her know
Hirsch: I’ll tell you once the wire goes out
Nahmad: Be like yeah I know because Helly already you know was talking about getting you cash
Hirsch: We are good, we’re good, we’re good Helly, we’re good
Hirsch: As of now we’re good, unless she changes her mind which I don’t think she will
Nahmad: But in order to lock her more in, be like yeah okay and also Helly was already talking to his Dad about his Dad’s friend, started to give him like you know some cash next month
Nahmad: So we got the ball, you see what I am saying, Bones?
Hirsch: That’s not going to lock her in, Dude, that’s just you know, I had to lock her in being like you have nothing to worry about
And all recorded, and thus came Nicholas Hirsch’s inclusion into a larger gambling case in which he had very little other connection.
Hirsch, though, may have been fortunate to receive only probation in the case. Prosecutors had sought a sentence of 4-10 months, citing his offense as being “motivated by pure greed.” USAO prosecutors from Preet Bharara’s SDNY office also stated that Hirsch’s conduct was “all the more deplorable because of his willingness to lie and betray a person he claims is his ‘long-time friend’ in the pursuit of what Hirsch termed as ‘easiest money I ever made.’”
Nahmad, for his part, has also pled guilty for his various roles in the sportsbetting operation, in addition to this affair. A press release issued by the USAO SDNY office in November shows that in addition to a $6.427 million fine, Nehmad also agreed to forfeit a painting called Carnaval à Nice, created in 1937 by the French Fauvist artist Raoul Dufy.
Multiple versions of Dufy’s Carnaval à Nice exist. The watercolor (top image) was listed in a Christie’s auction last November with a value estimated at $50,000-$70,000, but is likely not the intentionally overvalued Dufy that Nahmad and Hirsch conspired to pawn off on Hirsch’s modeling friend. The Dufy watercolor shown above, for the record, subsequently fetched a healthy $100,000 at auction, above estimate, but still well below $300,000.
That $300,000 asking price, instead, was what was once sought for Dufy’s oil version of Carnaval à Nice (second image). That oil was indeed listed in a 2008 Christie’s auction with a wide-ranging potential value of $240,000 to $350,000, but this appears to have been an intentional over-valuing by its then-owner (possibly Hillel Nahmad himself?), since the oil version was hammered down at a Christie’s of London art auction only a few months earlier for $74,900 (or about USD $154,300). This valuation, perhaps slightly higher today for modest inflation in the intervening years, is a more accurate indication of the Dufy oil’s value.
(Author’s Update: Author also notes that the press release issued by the Southern District of New York US Attorney’s Office makes no mention of two separate-medium versions of the same French work and uses only the word “painting” in its description of seized assets in the Helly Nahmad plea deal. In addition to the artist’s name and painting’s title, the recent date of sale of the watercolor (November 2013) and its valuation (about $100,000) also aligned with the known details of the case. However, author now believes that the oil version of Carnaval à Nice is the painting related to the Nahmad money laundering case. — HH)
Nahmad remains to be sentenced for his own roles in the various activities, though it’s unlikely he’ll be as fortunate as Hirsch and escape with only probation. And that’s how a French painting and an otherwise unconnected defendant came to be involved in a major sportsbetting crackdown.
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