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Feds: Russian Mob Ran Celebrity Poker Games

Poker (credit: Clip Art)

Poker (credit: Clip Art)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Members of Russian organized crime ran high-stakes poker games attended by professional athletes, Hollywood celebrities and Wall Street titans, federal authorities in New York said.

The games were an offshoot of a massive money-laundering scheme, authorities said.

FBI agents arrested dozens of people Tuesday in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere as part of the investigation.  There also were FBI raids at an apartment in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and a Madison Avenue art gallery owned by two of the defendants.

The poker games were allegedly run out of a $5 million apartment in Trump Tower, WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported.

Federal prosecutor Harris Fischman told the court, “these millionaires and billionaires could find themselves being threatened like any two-bit poker player in debt to a bookie.”

“As alleged, these criminal enterprises were vast and many-tentacled, with one of them reaching across the Atlantic to launder tens of millions of dollars from Russia to the U.S. via Cyprus and in some cases, back again. International money laundering is a serious offense, and we will do everything within our power to inhibit those who seek to sanitize the proceeds of crime through legitimate investment vehicles in this country from doing so,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

MORE: Read The Indictment (pdf)

In all, 34 people were arrested Tuesday in the scheme.

The owner of the Trump Tower apartment is heard on one wiretap telling one slow to pay client he should be careful or else he’ll be tortured or wind up underground, Cornell reported.

Federal authorities in New York City weren’t naming names and said none of the celebrities or other poker players were facing charges.

Among those named in an indictment filed in federal court was a wealthy Russian fugitive, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov. He was already under indictment in a separate U.S. case accusing him of bribing Olympic figure skating judges at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

In a two-month period beginning in late 2011, the money-laundering ring paid Tokhtakhounov $20 million in illegal proceeds, the indictment says.

Along with the illegal poker games, the ring operated “an international gambling business that catered to oligarchs residing in the former Soviet Union and throughout the world,” the indictment says.

Prosecutors allege proceeds were laundered through shell companies in Cyprus and in the United States.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)