FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
Six Defendants Indicted for Running Two
Internet-Based Sports Gambling Operations
Allegedly Accepted Over $11 Million in Wagers Over About Six Months
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today announced that six men from Staten Island and New Jersey have been variously charged in two indictments for running illegal Internet-based gambling operations that took in over $11 million in wagers on various professional and collegiate sporting events.
District Attorney Gonzalez said, “Illegal gambling is not a victimless crime, but an unlawful conduct that is often connected to loansharking, money laundering and to organized crime. These defendants are charged with allegedly running lucrative gambling operations that took in millions of dollars in bets. We have now shut down their enterprises and will seek to hold them accountable.”
The District Attorney identified the defendants as Ross Branca, 40, of Freehold, N.J., Stephen Barone, 56, of Jackson, N.J., Bryan “Faith” Kelly, 45, of Staten Island, Petrit “Pete” Lusha, 60, of Staten Island, Joseph “Joe Brooklyn” Melfi, 58, of Staten Island, and Anthony Sclafani, 73, of Staten Island.
They were arraigned today before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Vincent Del Giudice on two indictments in which they are variously charged with fifth-degree conspiracy, first-degree promoting gambling and first-degree possession of gambling records. Branca is additionally charged with second-degree money laundering. The defendants were released without bail and ordered to return to court on March 9, 2020.
The District Attorney said that, according to the indictment, between September 2018 and March 2019, Branca acted as a Master Agent who controlled a number of Agents, namely Barone, Kelly and Lusha, each with his own set of clients. Members of the conspiracy allegedly accepted sports wagers from betting customers directly and via telephonic and electronic communications to and from Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, New Jersey and elsewhere. They recorded some of the accepted wagers manually and some through the Internet sports gambling website www.Gameday365.ag, which is operated out of Costa Rica.
In addition, Branca allegedly received advice and assistance on logistical matters from Sclafani, During the period charged in the indictment, the operation accepted $9,091,613 in wagers, according to the investigation. The evidence also shows that Branca laundered over $100,000 of gambling proceeds from one of his bettors.
It is further alleged that, starting in February 2019, Kelly also utilized another website, www.playbig365.com. The investigation revealed that Melfi was the Master Agent of that website. Members of this second conspiracy operated in a similar manner to the one allegedly run by Branca. Between September 2018 and April 2019, that website accepted $1,928,499 in wagers, according to the investigation.
The case was investigated by the New York City Police Department’s Criminal Enterprise Investigations. Financial Investigator Veronica Beltran, of the District Attorney’s Asset Forfeiture and Crimes Against Revenue Bureau, and Investigative Paralegal Matthew Banwer, of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division, assisted in the investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Batsidis, of the District Attorney’s Asset Forfeiture and Crimes Against Revenue Bureau, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Gregory Mitchel, Bureau Chief, and Assistant District Attorney Christopher Blank, Chief of the District Attorney’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Unit, and the overall supervision of Assistant District Attorney Patricia McNeill, Chief of the Investigations Division.
An indictment is an accusatory instrument and not proof of a defendant’s guilt.