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Manhattan Fold ’Em

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Not named in the wider charges of intimidation and money-laundering, Bloom stands accused of running a poker game. The indictment covers her activities from 2010 to the present, suggesting, perhaps, that prosecutors took notice of Bloom during the Ruderman litigation and never lost interest. Her association with Illya Trincher, and Illya’s with Helly Nahmad, only made the case more enticing. But easily the most significant target in the case remains the Russian oligarch Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, who prosecutors say helped the others launder tens of millions of dollars through bank accounts and shell companies in Cyprus.

Tokhtakhounov, or “Alik” to his friends, is widely known as a vor or vory v zakone—a Russian term translated as “thief-in-law,” or crime boss. In Russia, he’s well known as an old-guard oligarch, one of many who, under Vladimir Putin, have been largely left alone provided they don’t cause noticeable trouble. He makes appearances at fashion shows and concerts and even published a novel (he has long denied being a vor). But he hasn’t left Russia for a decade because he is facing a federal indictment by the Southern District of New York on charges related to his role in allegedly fixing ice-dancing and pairs-skating competitions at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. “Why in all these games am I the only one to suffer, if I bought medals as part of some conspiracy?” he told one interviewer a few years ago, arms crossed in frustration.

Federal prosecutors believe that Tokhtakhounov received $10 million from his friends in New York over just two months beginning in late 2011. These New York friends, prosecutors say, included Vadim Trincher. Illya and Helly aren’t accused of conspiring with Tokhtakhounov or even knowing him. Neither is Molly Bloom. Her lawyers insist her only connection to the case is that she hosted poker games that Illya attended, and that she’s being unfairly roped into the investigation. But prosecutors will make the case that the money connects them.

On April 16, FBI agents raided the Helly Nahmad gallery at the Carlyle and Vadim’s apartment in Trump Tower, seizing $75,000 in cash and $2 million in chips from the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas. If convicted on all counts, Helly and Illya face prison terms of nearly 100 years each. They both are out on bail and are vowing to be exonerated. The trial date should be sometime in the summer of 2014. Their attorneys will say that the indictment contains little more than innuendo and that the government is arbitrarily combining lesser charges. “We do not believe Mr. Nahmad knowingly violated the law,” one of Helly’s lawyers, Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement. They might also argue that everybody plays poker, that this is a victimless enterprise, and that it’s ridiculous for the government to suggest it is protecting anyone involved, when everyone was wealthy enough to handle the stakes and pay whatever might or might not have been raked.

Bloom faces up to ten years in prison if she’s convicted. Those who know her say she’s unlikely to name more names. Says one of her close friends, “That’s not the kind of person she is. She’s not someone who seeks out the limelight, and in fact, she’s avoided it at any costs. People keep throwing around the term ‘Poker Princess,’ and it literally makes Molly want to tear her hair out.”

Of course, Bloom’s reticence may merely be convenient. She has spent the past year completing a memoir that a division of Harper­Collins is scheduled to publish in 2014. The truth is, her mystique has always helped her, even as it made her a bigger target. “The anonymity that we all wanted from the game, we maintained, and she became the face of the game,” one former regular of her L.A. game says. “And that was fine by us, you know? She also liked it. Who wouldn’t? She’s making money hand over fist. And if you asked her herself, she’d say it got the best of her.”

When Bloom turned herself in, one of her lawyers, Dana Cole, suggested she’s resigned to her fate. “Molly has been waiting for a long time for the other shoe to drop,” Cole said outside the courthouse as her client walked past, hands in the pockets of her jeans, hot-pink scarf draped around her neck. “She has no intention of minimizing the case against her, but hopefully, prosecutors understand that even some of our Supreme Court justices enjoy a weekly poker game.”


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