"There was some gambling and I like money, but I never forced anyone to gamble," Jeffrey Castardi said before his sentencing on one felony charge of violating Colorado's Organized Crime Control Act.
The bald 49-year-old wore jet-black eye glasses, a yellow jail jumpsuit and had a small tattoo on his right forearm as he stood before Jefferson County District Judge Philip McNulty.
Just minutes earlier, prosecutors had reminded the judge that Castardi had bragged that he'd been a bookie for the Gambino crime family on the East Coast for most of his adult life. Still, Castardi tells the judge he's sorry and is capable of feeling remorse.
"I do owe some apologies to some people, I am sorry for a lot of things and I will deal with that," he said.
Despite the last-minute plea from Castardi, McNulty held nothing back in his sentencing.
"It was you. The Gin Rummy Club and Jeff Castardi were one and the same," McNulty said. "This case is remarkable for the number of people whose lives were ruined, destroyed or ended because they had the misfortune of meeting you. You are a master of getting people to do things they wouldn't otherwise do."
Castardi and his partners started the Gin Rummy Club on 2380 S. Broadway in Denver in July 2003. Investigators with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's Gaming unit and the Denver Police Department shut it down in April 2008 and indicted Castardi and other members of his criminal enterprise with money laundering, tax evasion, theft and running an illegal gambling and bookmaking business.
Witnesses said the amount of money that ran through the club was "staggering;" somewhere in the millions of dollars, according to investigators.
The indictment says gamblers played Texas Hold 'em poker games and the house took a cut, or a rake, of the winnings. Many gamblers fell deep into debt and took loans from Castardi, at the illegal rate of 40 percent interest, according to investigators.
In court Monday, Colorado First Assistant Attorney General Robert Shapiro argued Castardi ruined many people's lives and contributed to the suicide of player Eric Cox and investor Jeremy Fowler.
"Castardi's been conning, he's been grifting, he's been cheating people and is a harm to this state," Shapiro said. "He was the pulse, the brains, the purpose of the club that existed."
The widow of Eric Cox spoke before the court on Monday. Cox, who stole $46,000 from his wife to pay off some of his gambling debts, killed himself Jan. 22, 2008.
"He took his life because of shame and financial ruin that came from gambling at the club," Cox's widow, Cathy Lopez, said. "Gambling is not a victimless crime."
Lopez says Cox was a generous man who fought for the rights of the homeless and others.
Castardi and his associates had been texting Cox in the days leading up to his suicide asking when they could collect their money, according to Shapiro. Hours after Cox was dead, a new text on his cell phone from Castardi and his associates read, "How do you look in the mirror?"
Investor Jeremy Fowler also killed himself in June 2007 after owing the business money.
Several other members of the Gin Rummy Club have been convicted and were mostly given probation sentences for various gambling-related crimes. Castardi will serve 16 years in the Department of Corrections, five years parole and may have to pay restitution to victims.
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