The sophisticated world of fine art collection was given a rude awakening when the FBI raided an art gallery owned by the Nahmad family Tuesday as part of an investigation into what is alleged to be an international gambling and money laundering operation.
The Nahmad family, a boisterous, flamboyant standout in the prim and proper world of art collection, is a major player in the business: the chairman of Christie’s of New York explained that they “have sold more works of art than anybody alive.” The raid was conducted subsequent to an indictment charging the owner of the gallery, Hillel Nahmad with operating a “high-stakes illegal gambling business run out of New York City and Los Angeles that catered primarily to multimillionaire and billionaire clients,” as well as defrauding an art buyer.
The Nahmads are no strangers to dealing with large sums of money and taking risks: the original patriarch of the family, also named Hillel Nahmad, was a prominent Syrian banker during the twentieth century. David Nahmad, one of his sons, won the World Championship of Backgammon in 1996. According to Forbes, the family’s art collection is worth around more than $3 billion.
The criminal operations supposedly supported through the use of coercively collecting gambler’s debts; one gambler gave up half of the interest in his plumbing company to cover his debts.
In a twist that makes this story seem even more like some sort of Ocean’s spinoff, the indictment also named Molly Bloom, who arranged high-stakes poker games for American glitterati including Tobey Maguire, Leo DiCaprio, and Ben Affleck. In addition to an arranger of shady poker games, the indictment’s targets also include a Russian gangster accused of attempting to rig skating competitions at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. The criminal, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, was described as the organization’s mastermind, or as a “Vory V Zakone,” a “thief in law.” Tokhtakhounov has links to powerful figures in Russian politics, including Vladimir Putin himself.
At this point, Tokhtakhounov is not yet in custody, although Nahmad was expected to surrender himself to authorities on Tuesday.