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The Lottery Lawyer Won Their Trust, Then Lost Their Mega Millions

Jay Kurland built a practice giving legal and financial advice to jackpot winners. He’s now accused of fraud.

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood | 1 July 2022

BUSINESSWEEK — By the spring of 2020, the lottery lawyer wasn’t sure the walls were necessarily closing in. The FBI had started interviewing his insta-millionaire clients, though, and things didn’t look good. The jackpots several winners had entrusted him to invest seemed to be dwindling, and Jay Kurland wasn’t sure how much they blamed him.

Shortly before 9 a.m. on June 19, he hopped on the phone with his neighbor and business partner Francis Smookler, a tanned, easy-living ex-stockbroker. “My Staten Island clients are very concerned,” Kurland said, singling out one couple. “You know, the visits, combined with the lack of payments.”

“Do you think that that’s going to explode into some big thing?” Smookler asked.

“No,” Kurland replied. “At the end of the day, we made, we’ve got bad business moves, but it was nothing criminal.”

Four days later, Smookler called another member of their team, a childhood friend named Frangesco Russo. The two were close; on the phone, they called each other “cuzzie.” Frankie’s grandfather was Andy “Mush” Russo, the longtime head of the Colombo crime family; his late father, Joseph “Jo Jo” Russo, died in prison. Frankie had kept his distance from the family business, but he was nevertheless acquainted with the criminal justice system. “We coerced these people into investing with us,” Smookler told him.

Russo didn’t seem too worried. “Maybe we conducted immorally. Fine,” he said. “All I know is that a lawyer was giving me $5, $10, $20 million.” […]

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