- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

The former director of the Office of Inspector and Auditor for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is facing trial next month on racketeering and money-laundering charges stemming from a purported gambling and loan-sharking operation.

Sharon R. Connelly, 66, spent more than two decades at the NRC and served for years as one of its top investigators, agency records show.

Miss Connelly of Springfield, is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 16 in federal court in Alexandria, an unlikely defendant in an organized-crime ring that investigators say resorted to robbery and extortion to collect debts from gamblers throughout Northern Virginia.

The case, investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, FBI and Fairfax County police, uncovered a gambling ring that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars later rolled into loans with interest rates as high as 300 percent, court records show.

Dubbed Operation Underdog, 14 persons have been indicted in the case. Miss Connelly is one of four defendants awaiting trial.

The organization’s leader, Raj Bansal, 63, pleaded guilty last week, admitting that his underground gambling ring laundered more than $2.5 million since 1993.

In addition to blackjack and casino games, Bansal’s operation generated profits through a loan sharking operation and no-show job schemes at businesses across Northern Virginia, court records show.

Miss Connelly worked at the NRC from 1984 to 1999. In addition to directing the NRC’s investigations and audits office, she also served as “special assistant for internal controls,” said NRC spokeswoman Holly Harrington.

Miss Connelly has waived her right to a jury trial, so a judge will preside over the case.

Her attorneys did not return phone messages left Wednesday and yesterday.

In court filings, defense attorneys recently sought to block federal authorities from seizing Miss Connelly’s assets, including pension funds.

Ms. Connelly has never made a withdrawal from or deposit to the accounts and there is no danger, or allegation, that such funds are tainted, defense attorney Alexa K. Mosley argued.

Court records show that Miss Connelly met Bansal sometime in 1997 and that she attended a previous trial in Fairfax in which he faced gambling charges.

Bansal relied on Miss Connelly to help him collect gambling debts by using corporate entities that she owned to execute mortgage loans on properties owned by people who owed Bansal money, according to the indictment in the case.

Miss Connelly also tried to foreclose on one property owned by an unnamed person suspected of cooperating in the probe into the Bansal organization, to the indictment said.

Bansal’s two sons, Nicholas, 36, and Steven, 32, previously pleaded guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced today before U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton in Alexandria.

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