Federal authorities have charged five people with running an illegal and well-established gambling operation with suspected ties to the Lucchese crime family, the US Department of Justice announced Wednesday. The charges were outlined in an indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn, when four defendants were arrested at their homes in New York, and another in West Palm Beach, Florida.
In a press release, the Justice Department alleged that one person arrested in the scheme, identified as 57-year-old Anthony Villani, is a direct associate of the notorious Mafia clan that has historically played a significant role in New York’s organized crime. Also charged in the scheme are James Coumoutsos, 59; Dennis Filizzola, 58; Michael Praino, 44; and Louis Tucci, Jr., 59, according to the Justice Department. Coumoutsos, Praino and Tucci were also identified by their nicknames – “Quick”, “Platinum” and “Tooch”, respectively.
Villani faces racketeering charges — for illegal gambling, money laundering and attempted racketeering — for his alleged connection to a fraud enterprise called Rhino Sports that, authorities said, collected illegal sports bets and reaped millions in profits over at least 15 years . Allegedly operated under the protection of the Lucchese family, the site used web hosting servers based in Costa Rica and regularly accepted between 400 and 1,300 games per week. It employed dozens of bookies to pay and collect winnings in cash, according to the Justice Department.
Villani is accused of overseeing what the department describes as a “large-scale” illegal scheme at the helm of Rhino Sports’ business dealings. He allegedly contracted Filizzola and Tucci as runners while “regularly” employing members of prominent Italian-American crime families, including the Lucchese family, to work as bookmakers.
The Justice Department alleged that Villani himself received more than $1 million annually from Rhino Sports. When federal agents raided his residence in 2020 during an investigation, they recovered more than $400,000 in cash, as well as knuckleballs and a gambling ledger.
“As alleged, this behavior shows how members of La Cosa Nostra continue to engage in illegal gambling operations and money laundering that lead to threats of violence against anyone who stands in their way and has resulted in millions of dollars in profits for the Luchese crime family,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement included in the Justice Department’s Wednesday announcement. “These charges illustrate this office’s continued commitment to rooting La Cosa Nostra out of New York.”
La Costa Nostra refers to an organized crime syndicate composed of several “families” known for their associations with the Sicilian Mafia. Back in August,for their alleged connections to a mob-linked illegal gambling ring.