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Scion of Art Family, in Court, Admits Role With a Gambling Ring

Anthony Lanzilote for The New York Times


Mr. Nahmad, 35, whose family, having amassed one of the largest collections of Impressionist and Modernist art in the world, is worth an estimated $3 billion, admitted playing a leadership role in a gambling ring. During a proceeding in United States District Court in Manhattan, he agreed to forfeit more than $6.4 million in cash and a painting worth several hundred thousand dollars. 

Under an agreement his lawyers worked out with prosecutors, Mr. Nahmad, who was initially charged with racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, gambling, money laundering, conspiracy and other crimes, pleaded guilty to a single charge of operating a gambling business. He had been indicted in April along with 33 reputed members and associates of two related Russian-American organized crime enterprises. 

He was one of several suspects accused of playing leadership roles in one of the enterprises. It was said to be a $100 million gambling and money-laundering network that organized poker games and sports betting operations and drew hundred-thousand-dollar wagers from celebrities and billionaires. 

Mr. Nahmad, wearing a dark gray suit, a white shirt and a dark striped tie, spoke in a clear voice before Judge Jesse M. Furman and admitted that he had helped conduct an illegal business that accepted more than five bets in a day totaling more than $5,000, satisfying the legal requirement for the charge. 

“Judge, this all started as a group of friends betting on sports events, but I recognize that I crossed the line, and I apologize to the court and my family,” Mr. Nahmad said. 

The indictment portrayed Mr. Nahmad, who is known as Helly, as a financier, money launderer and bookmaker. If he had gone to trial and been convicted on all counts, he would have faced a maximum of 92 years in prison, although his sentence under federal sentencing guidelines would probably have been shorter. 

But in exchange for admitting to the single gambling charge, the recommended sentence under the guidelines will be significantly shorter: 12 to 18 months. Under the agreement, his lawyers can ask Judge Furman to impose a sentence that includes no jail time and the dismissal of the other charges in the indictment. The painting that Mr. Nahmad agreed to forfeit as part of the plea agreement was “Carnaval à Nice, 1937” by Raoul Dufy. 

Mr. Nahmad is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Furman on March 19. 

Mr. Nahmad was the 14th of the 34 defendants charged in the case to plead guilty. The others who pleaded guilty agreed to forfeit a total of $9 million, officials said. 

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with the Internal Revenue Service and the New York Police Department. Mr. Nahmad’s lawyers, Benjamin Brafman and Paul L. Shechtman, said in a statement that they were pleased the government had agreed to dismiss the racketeering and fraud charges. 

“Today, Hillel has accepted responsibility for his participation in illegal gambling,” the statement said. “We are hopeful that at sentencing, the court will not impose any period of incarceration, recognizing Hillel’s unblemished background and his many redeeming qualities.” 

Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, whose office prosecuted the case, said: “Hillel Nahmad headed an illegal sports gambling business with ties to a Russian-American organized crime ring. Nahmad bet that he would never get caught and he lost.” 

In the plea agreement, Mr. Nahmad acknowledged being an organizer and leader of the ring; he was the primary source of financing for the gambling business and entitled to a share of its profits. In court, Joshua A. Naftalis, one of the assistant United States attorneys prosecuting the case, told the judge that Mr. Nahmad provided the gambling business millions of dollars transferred from his father’s Swiss bank account. 

After the court proceeding, Mr. Brafman, in an email, emphasized that his client’s father, David Nahmad, who set up the family’s gallery in the 1970s, at the corner of Madison Avenue and 76th Street, had no involvement in any wrongdoing. The government, he said, “has never alleged otherwise.” 

“All the senior Nahmad knew was that he was paying a personal debt of his son,” Mr. Brafman said. 

Outside court, Mr. Brafman said the case against his client would have no effects on the family’s gallery business. 

David Nahmad and other relatives have been a presence at the fall auctions. Last week, the elder Mr. Nahmad bought “Mousquetaire à la Pipe” (1969), a prime example of Picasso’s late paintings of musketeers, for $30.9 million with fees. 

And hours after entering his guilty plea, the younger Mr. Nahmad attended an auction at Christie’s. 

He has been a fixture on the New York City night-life scene. He lived in a $21 million apartment at Trump Tower and was friends with celebrities like Gisele Bündchen and Leonardo DiCaprio. 

In recent weeks, he has still been somewhat visible in those circles. During Fashion Week in September, he was seen at a party at the Standard in the meatpacking district of Manhattan. 

Carol Vogel contributed reporting.