The bling ring

Half of ‘the Gohar organization’ is in the wind after allegedly raking in stacks of cash through contraband video slots

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the May 17, 2018, issue.

For the second time in four years, law enforcement has broken up an illegal gambling operation in California run by Israeli nationals. The latest investigation started in Sacramento.

In September 2015, the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Gambling Control received information about a video slot machine operating in South Sacramento. Special agent Christine Norgaard reportedly found the contraband slot in a corner of Famous Smoke Shop on Stockton Boulevard. In an official warrant affidavit, Norgaard wrote that the smoke shop’s owner, Wesley Haung, admitted that the slot machine had been covertly installed by a man he knew only as “Orel.”

“The slot machine brought in approximately $1,000 per week,” Norgaard wrote, “which was split evenly between Orel and Huang.”

Investigators later determined that “Orel” was Orel Gohar, allegedly a member of a group of Israeli nationals operating illegal slot machines from Davis to El Centro. The state Justice Department refers to this network as the Gohar organization. Its leader, according to Norgaard’s affidavit, was Yaniv Gohar, a Bay Area businessman who owned three different construction companies.

Gohar’s operation wasn’t entirely novel to the Bureau of Gambling Control. Norgaard’s report states that, during the same period gambling agents were investigating Gohar’s network, they were also working with the FBI to break up a different group of Israeli nationals operating illegal slot machines. That group was called the Tuval organization. As gambling agents zeroed in on the Gohars, they turned to a confidential informant who’d helped agents arrest yet another character from the gambling fringes, the Mercedes-driving slot-baller Nive Hagay, better known on the streets of Sacramento as “Dino the Casino.”

According to the affidavit, the informer helped Orel Gohar install a video slot machine at a different smoke shop in Sacramento. Between the fall of 2016 and winter of 2017, gambling agents conducted video and audio surveillance of Orel whenever he’d drop by the business. Norgaard wrote that, during the surveillance, Orel was heard describing his organization as “a gang,” one that was led by three “rich-as-fuck bosses,” one of whom was in Israel.

Gambling agents ultimately arrested Yaniv Gohar, Orel Gohar and two of their associates, Eran Buhbut and May Levy. The four are charged with engaging in illegal gambling in Sacramento, Stockton, Antioch, San Jose and several other cities across the state. Levy pleaded guilty in May. Charges are still pending against Buhbut.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Yaniv and Orel Gohar skipped their court dates and their whereabouts are currently unknown.