The gambler in an intricate loyalty club scheme that ultimately defrauded Mohegan Sun Pocono out of more than $420,000 has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. 

Dallas, PA resident Mark Heltzel, 52, was also ordered to pay back the $420,147 he won from May 2014 to April 2015 using credits loaded onto various loyalty club membership cards by a former Mohegan Sun Pocono executive as a part of the scam. 

Heltzel pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was sentenced by US District Judge A. Richard Caputo last week. 

According to court documents, Heltzel conspired with Mohegan Sun Pocono vice president for player development Robert Pellegrini, 51, and Mohegan Sun Pocono cocktail waitress Rochelle Poszeluznyj, 39, to run the lucrative scam. 

The loyalty club scheme

Poszeluznyj would record the names and player loyalty club personal identification numbers of players while she served them drinks. She would then pass the information on to Pellegrini, who would use it to print duplicate player club cards and load them up with free play credits.

Pellegrini would pass the cards on to Heltzel. As the gambler, Heltzel’s role was to gamble with the free play credits at slots and video poker machines. The group would then split up any winnings. 

Heltzel reportedly turned $478,000 in free play credits into $420,147 in profits over an 11-month period. 

Pellegrini was determined to be the ring leader by Judge Caputo. He also plead guilty on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Pellegrini was sentenced to 32 months in prison this past June. After pleading guilty on similar charges, Poszeluznyj is expected to be sentenced later this month. 

Pellegrini claimed a gambling addiction him down a path to the scam. He reportedly lost $30,000 a day at competing local PA casinos.

Pellegrini resolved a dispute between Heltzel and casino staff by offering him $10,000 in free play in $1,000 weekly increments. After that, Heltzel befriended Pellegrini and became a regular at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Heltzel told the court he “succumbed to temptation” when Pellegrini later offered him a role in the scam. 

Gambler suffers lapse in judgement

Heltzel’s lawyer Demetrius Fannick claimed Heltzel’s role as gambler in the scam represented a lapse in judgment and was out of character for him. He also said Heltzel’s casual gambling and drinking had snowballed out of control, leading him here. 

In a plea for leniency, Heltzel claimed his role in the scam led to him hitting rock bottom. He has been undergoing counseling for alcohol and gambling addictions ever since. 

IRS investigation uncovers all

The scam went undetected for so long because it was part of Pellegrini’s job to provide free play credits to high rollers. Evidence of the scam was eventually uncovered by an Internal Revenue Service investigation. The investigation also involved the Pennsylvania State Police. 

Mohegan Sun Pocono was Pennsylvania’s first slot machine facility. The property sits on the outskirts of Wilkes-Barre, PA. It features a harness track alongside more than 2,300 slots and live table games. 

Casino operations at Mohegan Sun Pocono first opened in November 2006. The state authorized slot machines at racetracks and casino locations across Pennsylvania in 2004.