Obama's French Ambassador Pick, Tied to Mob-Run Poker Ring, Bows Out

Billionaire Marc Lasry made a number of friends during his time as cofounder and CEO of the hedge fund Avenue Capital Group. In fact, it was his close buddy Bill Clinton who let it slip that Lasry was President Obama's top choice for ambassador to France. A token of Obama's appreciation for helping to raise nearly $1 million for his re-election, perhaps?

(Chelsea Clinton also worked at Avenue, before declaring her three years there meaningless.)

But one of Lasry's high-profile friendships just cost the "'master of the universe' type" the title he badly wanted. The New York Post reports that Lasry turned down the position this week after the FBI started sniffing around his "close friendship" with Illya Trincher.

Trincher, a 27-year-old poker star and alleged Russian mobster, was indicted earlier this month, along with about three dozen others, in a $100 million betting and money-laundering scheme. The indictment names Trincher's pro-poker-playing relatives, a Russian national accused of fixing the skating competition in the 2002 Winter Olympics, and "poker madam" Molly Bloom, who had previously been charged with helping organize games for Hollywood heavyweights like Tobey Maguire, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

So the opening scene of Oceans 29, basically.

Also named in the indictment is Hillel "Helly" Nahmad, a well-known Manhattan art dealer and gambler himself. That's where the money-laundering came in, with Nahmad allegedly helping launder "tens of millions of dollars" through his art gallery in the Carlyle hotel.

The Post says Lasry's name surfaced on one of the FBI tapes and he dropped out rather than face questions about his involvement in the ring during the Senate approval process. A source told the paper Lasry didn't do anything criminal, more like crime adjacent.

“It’s not that he committed a crime, but it opens a can of worms,” a source said.

Lasry was fond of hosting winner-take-all poker games at his Upper East Side mansion with other hedgies, like Saba Capital Management founder Boaz Weinstein and TPG Capital's David Bonderman, "where the stakes can get as high as $20,000 per hand." But as he told Bloomberg TV last year, his interest was mostly academic.

“Poker is math, so I enjoy playing it because I think there’s a lot of math involved,” he said. “And it’s fun. It’s fun to play with others.”

There's little chance the Moroccan-born financier was unaware of U.S. gambling laws. In 2011, Avenue Capital and Donald Trump were named in a regulatory filing to form a joint internet gaming venture should U.S. regulators permit such businesses to operate.

In a letter to investors, Lasry assured them he would be staying put, a little awkward considering his sister and Avenue cofounder Sonia Gardner just sent out a letter essentially prepping them for a succession plan.

Not to be a closet bitch, but Lasry bankrolling his 18-year-old daughter's attempt to become the next Rebecca Black sounds more egregious than a few friendly card games.