LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Eighteen alleged members of a violent gambling ring located primarily in California and Peru have been charged with operating an illegal Internet and telephone gambling business, authorities said Wednesday.
Participants in the "Macho Sports" scheme were accused of taking millions of dollars in illegal sports wagers over the last decade in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas, according to a complaint (PDF) filed in U.S. District Court.
KNX 1070's Tom Reopelle reports FBI agents say they arrested 14 of the defendants in coordinated actions in San Diego and Los Angeles, while foreign counterparts arrested defendant Erik Portocarrero in Oslo, Norway.
18 Indicted In Illegal Online Gambling Ring
Agents also executed seizure warrants seeking the forfeiture of at least $5 million in property associated with Macho Sports, including a La Jolla property allegedly obtained with proceeds from the illegal gambling conspiracy
The FBI investigation, which started in 2011, employed wiretaps and undercover agents to infiltrate the organization and uncover the defendants' illegal gambling activities and extortionate debt collection.
According to the indictment, Jan Harald Portocarrero and Erik Portocarrero ran Macho Sports from Lima, Peru, using the Internet and toll-free telephone lines to accept bets from customers in California.
Investigators say the organization ensured the prompt payment of gambling debts through the use of intimidation, threats, and violence, as well as fostering a violent reputation as to its treatment of delinquent customers.
The co-conspirators avoided detection by laundering their illegal proceeds and maintaining a company headquarters and the physical platform for its Internet operations outside the United States, according to the indictment.
In a wiretap recorded last year, suspected ringleader Jan Portocarrero is allegedly heard trying to assure alleged bookie Joseph Barrios, of Marina del Rey, that he need not fear arrest.
"Everyone knows you're a bookmaker. You flaunt it... What they (law enforcement) want is the money," he says, according to a criminal complaint obtained by KCAL9.
Larry Gold, of North Hollywood, was a runner for Macho Sports. according to investigators.
Last December he allegedly met with an undercover agent who paid him $1,500 of a $53,000 debt.
In another wiretap Gold is allegedly heard telling the agent it was better to face him than his bosses.
"You may as well deal with the puppy before you deal with the dobermans," he is quoted saying.
In a wiretap recorded Feb. 15, 2013, Barrios allegedly asked a subbookie of West Hills about a deliquent customer.
"They're gonna want all the information you have on this guy... He's gonna get the (expletive) beat out of him for sure... It's only fair. I have been through this a million times."
Although originally from California, the Portocarrero brothers set up Macho Sports first in Panama and later in Peru after suffering previous gambling arrests or convictions in the United States.
The defendants named in the indictment include:
- Jan Harald Portocarrero, 40, of Los Angeles;
- Erik Portocarrero , 42, of Lima, Peru;
- Amir Mokayef, 37, of La Jolla;
- Joseph Barrios, 47, of Marina del Rey;
- Randall Lee Irwin, 51, of Los Angeles;
- Larry Neil Gold, 53, of N. Hollywood;
- Charles Edward Sullivan, 40, of Canyon Country;
- Michael Christopher Iaco, 30, of San Diego;
- Emed G. Sidaros, 43, of Los Angeles;
- Isaac Pete Gharibeh, 42, of Los Angeles;
- Todd Michael Heflin, 45, of West Hills;
- Howard Alan Blum, 51, of Carlsbad;
- Michael John Massey, 44, of San Diego;
- Salvatore Giacomo Groppo, 37, of San Diego;
- Nilesh Kumar Ambubhai Patel, 26, of Los Angeles; and
- Benjamin John William Weber, 27, of La Mesa.
"This case highlights the connection between illegal internet gambling operations and the violence associated with this type of racketeering activity," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Daphne Hearn. "Criminal enterprises like "Macho Sports" and their US-based "bookmakers" pray (sic) on the gambling addictions of their betting customers, wreaking havoc on people's lives and the lives of family members."
Some defendants are expected to be arraigned as early as Wednesday afternoon on illegal gambling and racketeering conspiracy charges.
If convicted, the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison.
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