Ex-dog track official to change plea in gambling case

Richard Hart, former general manager of Lakes Region Greyhound Park, plans to change his innocent plea on charges linked to a massive illegal gambling conspiracy involving tax fraud and organized crime – the charges that eventually resulted in the Belmont track’s closure and change in ownership.

Meanwhile, the new owner of the facility says it plans to reopen later this spring.

Most of the other defendants in the case also plan to change their innocent pleas. Sources close to trial said that they don’t expect the case to go to trial due to plea bargaining. Hart’s assistant, Jonathan Broome, pleaded guilty in the fall, and was scheduled to be sentenced March 27. Hart was scheduled to enter a plea on April 6.

Hart’s attorneys could not be reached for comment, but usually notice of such a plea change means the prosecution is prepared to drop some of the more serious charges lodged against a defendant.

Hart and Broome were charged — though their involvement with Concord-based International Players Association – with acting as a conduit between a New York organization called the Uvari Group and Euro Off-Track, an offshore betting operation based on the Isle of Man in the British Isles.

The alleged conspiracy charges involve 18 defendants and five states, primarily centered on the Uvari Group, which is allegedly tied to the Gambino organized crime family.

Anthony Uvari, the lead defendant, is the son of Gerald Uvari, allegedly the boss of the operation. The other main defendants in the gambling operation are Ceasare Uvari (Anthony’s uncle) and David Applebaum, according to government filings. (All the Uvaris are scheduled to plead. Anthony Uvari, according to court papers, was planning on pleading guilty.)

The Uvari Group allegedly allowed customers to wager anonymously by providing them with numerical codes and PIN numbers, rather than their own personal information. The group also allegedly used members’ own Social Security numbers to report customers’ losses, receiving a tax windfall from the IRS.

Defense attorneys’ major dispute has not so much been with the facts of the case, but with the law. They have argued that the operation amounted to nothing more than off-track betting, which is not only legal but sanctioned by the state.

That was the argument echoed by Al Hart, Richard Hart’s uncle and former owner of the track.

Al Hart, who has not been charged with any crime, admits to helping set up IPA to handle offshore gambling operations, but he has always maintained that neither he, nor the track, was involved in IPA’s day-to day operations. Besides, he argues, IPA did nothing illegal to begin with.

But, as first reported last year in New Hampshire Business Review, court filings in a family dispute over IPA’s ownership seem to indicate that the track was more deeply involved in the IPA.

In addition, the state attorney general released a report last year that alleged that at least some IPA operations were actually being run out of the track.

Family lawsuit

The family dispute is ongoing, with a trial under way in March in Belknap County Superior Court in Laconia.

In a Laconia Citizen report of the trial, Kenneth Hart testified that he attended meetings in 1996, during the proposed transfer of his mother’s ownership interest in the track to his wife and his brother Robert’s wife. The track’s attorney was asked to prepare an opinion letter regarding the impact of the criminal convictions on the track’s license, he testified.

As the Business Review first reported last year, all three of Al Hart’s nephews were previously convicted of gambling-related activities and yet were still hired to work at the track. Under state law, it is illegal for a racetrack to knowingly hire anyone with a gambling record. Al Hart said he did not know about his nephews’ gambling convictions.

“He was concerned that if we put an application in it would raise the red flag that we’d been working (at the track) since day one,” Kenneth Hart testified, according to the Citizen.

He also testified that he gave Al Hart signed permission to conduct a criminal background check and that his uncle said he planned to do one and disclose the results to the state Pari-mutuel Commission, the Citizen reported.

Rob Cook — Al Hart’s attorney — reportedly objected to the relevancy of this line of questioning, but Kenneth Hart’s attorney — Steven Latici – said he was trying to impeach Al Hart’s testimony in other matters.

The track closed it doors last April and surrendered its license in May after the New Hampshire attorney general called on the Pari-Mutuel Commission to revoke the track’s license.

The property itself was eventually sold for more than $3 million to Torguson Gaming Group, of Biloxi, Miss. Details of the entire transaction were never disclosed.

Plans call for the track to reopen on May 27 as “The Lodge at Belmont,” with expanded live racing to 100 calendar days, and a host of amenities, including a blues club, a steakhouse that will seat 65 people and daylong buffet.

“A lot of work is going on,” said Rick Newman, a spokesman for the track. “It’s quite extensive.”

The opening has been hampered both by Hurricane Katrina, which damaged much of the corporation’s records, and heightened scrutiny by the attorney general’s office, which received the Executive’s Council OK to spend an additional $50,000 to have the Nashua accounting firm of Brayman, Houle, Keating & Albright conduct a complete audit of Torguson.

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