NEW YORK – Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Dermot Shea, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), and Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Eastern Region Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA-OIG”), announced the unsealing of an Indictment charging 16 defendants in counts including racketeering, gambling, extortion, fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice offenses. Of the 16 defendants, ABDURAMAN ISENI, a/k/a “Diamond,” ERVIN MAKISHTI, a/k/a “Vinny,” SOKOL GJONI, MIRALEM LJULJANOVIC, and JETMIR SULAJ, are associated with a racketeering enterprise referred to in the Indictment as the “Diamond Enterprise,” a criminal group overseen by ISENI, and are charged in United States v. Iseni, et al. (the “Indictment”), which has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Carter.
Eleven additional defendants are charged in the Indictment with various offenses, many relating to the operations of the overarching Diamond Enterprise, including extortion, operation of illegal gambling establishments, money laundering, bank fraud, fraud on the federal Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”), and obstruction of justice. Specifically:
- ISENI, MAKISHTI, GJONI, LJULJANOVIC, SULAJ, ELDI MAKISHTI, ENRI DIMO, a/k/a “Eni,” DARREN DANZIERI, AMIR BECOVIC, and RAFAEL JACOBS are charged with conspiring to operate illegal gambling businesses, including live poker, electronic poker machines, and gambling on sporting events.
- ISENI, MAKISHTI, GJONI, LJULJANOVIC, ISLAM LAMCE, a/k/a “Bachi,” BRAJAN TOLA, GAZMEND LITA, and SMAIL DJOKIC, a/k/a “Ismail Gjoka” are charged with conspiring to transmit wagering information by wire communication facility to assist in the placing of bets and wagers on sporting events.
- ISENI and BESIM KUKAJ are charged with conspiring to commit extortion and interstate threats, extortion, and interstate threats in connection with ISENI’s call to a victim threatening physical violence.
- KUKAJ is charged with bank fraud conspiracy, as part of a scheme to obtain Government-guaranteed loans from banks via the fraud on the Paycheck Protection Program, a law intended to assist small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- ISENI is charged with money laundering funds that were represented to be the proceeds of a scheme to fraudulently obtain Paycheck Protection Program funds.
- MELSA SKRAPALLIU is charged with obstruction of justice for false statements made to a federal law enforcement officer in order to interfere with an investigation of ISENI.
- ISENI and SKRAPALLIU are charged with bank fraud conspiracy and making false statements to a bank.
ISENI, ERVIN MAKISHTI, GJONI, LJULJANOVIC, SULAJ, ELDI MAKISHTI, DIMO, DANZIERI, JACOBS, TOLA, DJOKIC, KUKAJ, and SKRAPALLIU were taken into federal custody today and will be presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn of the Southern District of New York. LITA, LAMCE, and BECOVIC remain at large.
Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Abduraman Iseni and his co-defendants allegedly operated a network of underground gambling establishments, and laundered the proceeds of that activity, to prop up a criminal enterprise under Iseni’s control. Going well beyond that racketeering activity, Iseni and others allegedly engaged in a variety of crimes, including extortion through violent threats, obstruction of justice, fraud on legitimate financial institutions, and fraud on the critical Paycheck Protection Program. They now face the possibility of serious time in prison for their alleged crimes.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “The organization we’ve disrupted with our enforcement action today is a textbook example of an organized-crime group. As we allege, the crimes these men committed ran the gamut from running illegal gambling operations to making extortionate threats to defrauding the government of PPP benefits intended for honest Americans suffering economic harm during the pandemic. While these men did all they could to avoid making an honest living, the outstanding work done by the FBI’s New York Balkan Organized Crime team ensures they won’t be able to avoid facing justice.”
SBA-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Amaleka McCall-Brathwaite said: “The Paycheck Protection Program was developed to aide small businesses during these challenging times. Our Office will relentlessly pursue organized criminal enterprises that seek to exploit SBA’s vital economic programs. I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners for their dedication and pursuit of justice.”
NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said: “The web of alleged crimes unveiled by this federal indictment victimized everyday New Yorkers, undercut a federal aid program and eroded the fabric of life in the city. I commend our NYPD detective and federal partners for their sustained work in this important case.”
According to the allegations in the Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court and statements made during Court proceedings:
As alleged, the Diamond Enterprise was an organized criminal group operating under the direction of ISENI, who had substantial influence in the criminal underworld. The Diamond Enterprise operated through groups of individuals, often with overlapping members or associates, dedicated to particular criminal tasks, particularly operation of illegal gambling parlors, sports gambling by wire, and money laundering, among others. For their roles in leading and managing the Diamond Enterprise’s criminal activities, ABDURAMAN ISENI, a/k/a “Diamond,” ERVIN MAKISHTI, a/k/a “Vinny,” SOKOL GJONI, MIRALEM LJULJANOVIC, and JETMIR SULAJ are charged in Count One of the Indictment with racketeering conspiracy. The Diamond Enterprise thrived in part on the revenues generated by a network of illegal gambling parlors – “Sports Café,” “Friendly Café,” and “Oasis Café” – located throughout Brooklyn, that hosted underground poker games and hosted illegal sports books. Some of these revenues, in turn, were laundered through a series of bank accounts in an effort to conceal and facilitate the Enterprise’s continued operations.
In addition to the Enterprise’s operations, ISENI allegedly engaged in a series of additional crimes ranging from extortion through threats of violence, to money laundering, to fraud on the PPP. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act was the authorization of hundreds of billions of dollars in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the SBA’s PPP. As alleged, defendant KUKAJ engaged in a fraud to obtain PPP loan funds, which ISENI then attempted to launder through bank accounts designed to conceal the source and ownership of those fraudulently obtained funds.