Three former New York Racing Association tellers who offered to launder money to undercover police posing as cocaine dealers pleaded guilty to multiple counts of attempted laundering and conspiracy that could land them lengthy prison sentences.
The guilty pleas Wednesday by Pete Oster, Joseph Rabito and Robert Lodati came one day before their trials in the high-profile money laundering case was set to begin in a Saratoga County courtroom.
"This investigation was launched because it was suspected that criminal activity was seeping into the grandstands of New York's racing industry. These guilty pleas demonstrate law enforcement's commitment to restoring New York racing's reputation,'' said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
The guilty pleas by the three former NYRA employees, however, does not close the case. "The case remains open and active,'' said Paul Larrabee, a spokesman for Spitzer. Indeed, federal investigators are conducting their own investigation in a related probe that has not yet produced any charges.
Oster, 65, a Queens resident, and Rabito, 60, of Long Island, entered guilty pleas to four counts of attempted money laundering in the first degree, four counts of falsifying business records, all felonies, and one count of conspiracy in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor. Lodati, 60, of Queens, pleaded guilty to six counts of attempted money laundering, six counts of falsifying business records and one conspiracy count; he was the chairman of the tellers' union at NYRA tracks. Officials said the men face prison terms of between five and 16 years when they are sentenced in July by Saratoga County Court Judge Jerry Scarano.
A fourth defendant in the case, Robert Marshall, died last fall.
Spitzer has said many other betting window tellers were aware of the money laundering operation, and he suggested last year other indictments are likely. He said the money laundering was "brazenly'' carried out in open with many tellers aware that money was being switched for drug dealers. He said there was no evidence that races at the NYRA tracks were affected by the money laundering operation.
In announcing the indictments last summer, Spitzer also sharply criticized NYRA management, accusing them of having "grossly inadequate mechanisms'' in place to ensure the illegal activities didn't occur in the first place. He said the lack of oversight and poor management structure "should have detected this behavior'' and that the whole affair "certainly reflects poorly on the management of NYRA and the manner in which they were running the tracks.''
The tellers worked at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga tracks. The investigation began at the request of the state Racing and Wagering Board in March 2000. State Police then observed tellers receiving cash payments without providing betting slips in return. Spitzer said the tellers took in large bills and gave back small bills in return for a 5 percent to 10 percent cut. Such changing of money is a common practice for drug dealers to "clean'' money by making it easier to smuggle out of the country.
In a six-month period, the dealers allegedly tried to launder more than $300,000 with the undercover police. In one incident, one of the tellers accepted more than $100,000 in small bills from the trunk of a car, belonging to undercover police, in the parking lot of a diner near Belmont.
It is unknown how long the operation was underway before the sting operation began, though taped conversations by police led investigators to believe laundering involving real drug dealers was underway for at least several years at the NYRA tracks.