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Charge: ‘Computer geek’ ran mob’s betting operation

New Jersey authorities announced Friday that they had arrested the man who allegedly ran an Internet-linked, billion-dollar sports betting operation for the Lucchese organized crime family.

Brian Cohen, 61, described by one law enforcement source as a "computer geek," was charged with money-laundering and gambling offenses in a complaint filed by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.

He was arrested Wednesday at Buffalo International Airport, where he had just arrived on a flight from Costa Rica.

Cohen maintains residences in Buffalo and Costa Rica, according to authorities. He appeared at a preliminary hearing Friday and was released on $100,000 bail.

His arrest is the latest development in Operation Heat, an investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice that led to the indictment of 34 reputed mob members and associates earlier this month.

Authorities allege that Cohen "was the primary facilitator for the Lucchese crime family's offshore gambling operations."

The indictment charges that the crime family generated about $2 billion in bets during a 15-month period that ended in 2007.

Those charged include Joseph DiNapoli, 74, of Scarsdale, N.Y., and Matthew Madonna, 74, of Seldon, N.Y., two reputed members of the ruling hierarchy of the crime family.

Most of the other defendants were based in New Jersey, including former crime family capo Nicodemo S. Scarfo, 44, and capo Ralph Perna, 64.

Scarfo, who lives in Egg Harbor Township, Atlantic County, is the son of jailed former Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo.

Both he and Perna were charged with gambling, money laundering and extortion charges in connection with the gambling operation, which authorities said used a Internet website connected to a wire room in Costa Rica.

Customers were given passwords to place bets. Authorities said one gambler placed more than $2 million in bets over a two-month period.

Cohen, according to investigators, ran the wire room in San Jose, Costa Rica, and oversaw the betting mob's website

The wire room had about 20 employees who took bets and processed wagers, authorities said.

Cohen supervised "the acceptance and settling of billions of dollars in wagers and ensured the website through which those bets were placed remained up and running," New Jersey Attorney General Paula T. Dow said in announcing his arrest on Friday.

Stephen J. Taylor, the director of the Division of Criminal Justice, said the investigation has targeted the "top echelon" of the Lucchese organization in both New Jersey and New York.

DiNapoli and Madonna faced unrelated racketeering and bribery charges in New York that grew out of the New Jersey investigation.

While the Internet gambling and related money-laundering charges form the heart of the Operation Heat case, several defendants also face charges related to financial fraud and extortion.

The case also includes charges related to a smuggling operation in which members of the Lucchese organization allied with members of the Bloods street gang to sell drugs and prepaid cell phones to inmates at a New Jersey state prison.

A prison jail guard also has been indicted in that portion of the case.