Something about Jamine Alabre and Mathurin Ambroise must have seemed strange. For months, the couple had played the slots in Atlantic City, moving at least $500,000 through high-limit machines. But in May 2005, personnel at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa grew suspicious and alerted state police.
Authorities said yesterday that the couple had been laundering money that Alabre embezzled from her employer. Alabre, 28, of Westbury, N.Y., and Ambroise, 34, of St. Albans, N.Y., pleaded guilty Monday in Superior Court in Atlantic County to receiving stolen property.Under the plea agreement, Alabre faces six years in prison and Ambroise three years. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 24.
They were indicted in January 2007 and arrested in Nassau County, N.Y.
Authorities and gaming experts are loath to describe how criminals try to launder money in casinos - and how investigators catch them. But Harvey Perkins, a senior vice president at the Spectrum Gaming Group in Linwood, N.J., said "behavior is the key" to distinguishing a high roller from a crook. "You do have people who will establish themselves first as a high roller, then use that persona to attempt to launder money," he said. "People get caught by behavior that deviates from the norm."
Perkins said he didn't want to elaborate, for fear of giving away investigative techniques. Officials from the state Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted Alabre and Ambroise, also wouldn't discuss the case. "It's not uncommon for criminals to attempt to use casinos to launder money," said Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the office. "We are vigilant to detect such activity."
Drug dealers have laundered money at table games by exchanging illegal proceeds for casino chips, then losing a small amount before cashing in the chips. In theory, that technique could be used at a slot, which spits out a voucher for remaining credits when a player leaves the machine. But casinos are obligated to report when a player makes more than $10,000 in cash transactions in a gaming day, and they must seek identification from anyone making those transactions, Perkins said.
Alabre and Ambroise caught the eye of Borgata personnel while feeding "large amounts of currency" into slots that allow wagers as high as $1,000 a spin, authorities said. All Perkins would say about that matter was that "it's possible" to launder money at a slot."It requires a great deal of effort and a great many transactions," he said.
Alabre admitted gambling with the proceeds from $1 million she stole from IPSOS, an international marketing firm on Long Island, N.Y. The company uses cash incentives to get people to participate in market surveys. Alabre, a former accounting coordinator there, inflated the cash orders, then stole the additional money, the Attorney General's Office said.
Between January and October 2005, she and Ambroise laundered more than $500,000 at Atlantic City slot machines, particularly in the Borgata. They were indicted on charges of money laundering and receiving stolen property.
Whatever tipped off the Borgata security, Perkins said, he was heartened that the couple had been caught. "A casino's not a very good place to launder money," he said. "Even though I know how it's done, it doesn't mean I could get away with it."