Former Mohegan Sun Pocono vice president of player development, Robert Pellegrini, was handed down a 32-month prison sentence on Friday by a Pennsylvania federal court for conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The 51-year-old was arrested in January this year after he and his co-conspirators reaped nearly $420,000 in winnings from slot machines by reportedly using illegally obtained “free-play” money at Pennsylvania’s Mohegan Sun Pocono casino, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo sentenced Pellegrini to the nearly three-year prison term and ordered him to make restitution to the Pennsylvania casino owned and operated by the former Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which now operates as Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment.
Originally charged with theft, fraud, identity theft, computer trespassing, and conspiracy, Pellegrini ultimately plead to a single charge of money laundering; a charge his accomplice, Mark Joseph Heltzel, plead guilty to in October last year.
The operation that reportedly ran from May 2014 to April 2015 before Pellegrini was nabbed; involved Pellegrini’s using stolen loyalty card PIN numbers from legitimate Pocono customers to create bogus reward cards which were loaded with more than $478,000 in free slot credits. Pellegrini, along with Rochelle Poszeluznyj, a cocktail waitress at the casino, and Heltzel, who had previously been caught cheating at the blackjack tables but was for whatever reason not banned, used the bogus cards to gamble with the casino’s money, the winnings then split by the trio.
Police said at the time that an apparent love triangle between table dealer Matthew Crane, Hentzel, and Poszeluznyj during the scheme was the catalyst that drove Crane to let the cat out of the bag. According to Crane, the scheme was referred to as a “handshake” by Pellegrini and Heltzel and was initiated before Poszeluznyj joined the duo sometime around December 2013 or January 2014.
Pellegrini, who claims to be a problem gambler, reportedly told the judge that he is a “flawed man,” and, “I’ve made mistakes in my life, this being the biggest,” he said. “I didn’t steal to pay my bills. It was to support my gambling.”
Judge Caputo ordered Pellegrini to pay $478,350 in restitution to his former employer. Both Poszeluzny and Heltzel have pleaded guilty and are reportedly due to be sentenced at a later date. Heltzel is facing 175 mostly felony counts of criminal conspiracy, theft, identity theft, and winning by fraud. Initially, his bail was set at $500,000 but was reduced to $150,000, with the understanding that any firearms that he possesses would be surrendered and he would pay just 10 percent of the bond to remain free until his sentencing date.
It’s not the first time the MTGA has been in the news this year. In February, the Authority announced the resignation of its then President and Chief Executive Officer, Robert Soper, after the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) launched a probe into “possible operational control deficiencies” at its Mohegan Sun Pocono property.