FBI raids La Jolla residence in alleged sports gambling ring

Amir Mokayef

From City New Service and La Jolla Light Reports

FBI agents in Southern California served search and arrest warrants early Wednesday morning, June 19, as part of an ongoing investigation involving an international sports gambling ring.

Charges include racketeering, conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs and running an illegal gambling business.

One of the 18 arrests was made at a home at 5848 Soledad Rd. in La Jolla.

Those arrested — working mainly in California and Peru — were charged with operating an illegal Internet and telephone gambling business called “Macho Sports,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Officials called the gambling ring “violent,” and participants allegedly took millions of dollars in illegal sports wagers over the last decade in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas.

Four people were arrested abroad and 14 were arrested in Southern California. The La Jolla arrest was made at a home owned by 37-year-old Amir Mokayef, where police seized an Apple computer, large painting and boxes of files.

According to the indictment, brothers Jan and Erik Potocarrero ran Macho Sports from Lima, Peru, using the Internet and toll-free telephone lines to accept bets from customers in California. They then utilized bookies such as Mokayef in Southern California to assist with operations. Foreign law enforcement counterparts arrested Erik Potocarrero in Oslo, Norway.

Neighbors, who wished to remain anonymous, told the La Jolla Light the Soledad Road home was remodeled extensively after Mokayef moved in. Though neighbors said they did not know Mokayef, one neighbor said there was a lot of traffic in and out of the home, and that several young men and at least one young woman were reported coming and going with suspicious frequency.

FBI agents executed warrants seeking the forfeiture of at least $5 million in property associated with Macho Sports, including the Soledad Road property, which authorities say was obtained by conspirators with proceeds from the illegal operation. According to Zillow.com, the house last sold for $1.15 million in November of 2006.

Officials claim Mokayef was the primary San Diego bookie responsible for recruiting customers and collecting on bets. The organization ensured the prompt payment of gambling debts through the use of intimidation and threats and violence, as well as fostering a violent reputation regarding its treatment of delinquent customers, according to the indictment.

The investigation has been ongoing since 2011 and employed wiretaps and undercover agents, one of whom met Mokayef at a sports bar in 2011.

FBI agents served a search warrant on this La Jolla residence at 5848 Soledad Rd. at about 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. Wood splinters near the front door made it appear as if agents forced their way into the residence. One arrest was made, though it was not clear Wednesday afternoon if it was the home's owner, alleged bookie Amir Mokayef.

“This case highlights the connection between illegal Internet gambling operations and the violence associated with this type of racketeering activity,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Daphne Hearn said. “Criminal enterprises like Macho Sports and their U.S.-based ‘bookmakers’ prey on the gambling addictions of their betting customers, wreaking havoc on people’s lives and the lives of family members.”

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, according to the indictment.

In addition to its telephone and Internet operations, Macho Sports used teams of bookies who were responsible for recruiting customers, paying off winning bets and collecting on losing bets, the indictment stated.

The homepage for machosports.com, which was removed from the Internet Wednesday afternoon.

Macho Sports’ bookies often managed their own network of “sub-bookies,” who both recruited customers and delivered payments to the managing bookie. For example, San Diego-area bookie Mokayef managed the sub-bookies Michael Christopher Iaco, Howard Alan Blum, Michael John Massey, Salvatore Giacomo Groppo, Nilesh Kumar Ambubhai Patel, and Benjamin John William Weber.

Macho Sports supplied their customers with an account number and password for accessing their gambling accounts on its websites. Bookies instructed their customers that they could place bets with their bookmaker or by calling Macho Sports’ toll-free numbers or through their online accounts on the Macho Sports websites. Typically, Macho Sports would extend credit to new customers, so they could begin sports betting without pre-funding their accounts. Macho Sports also provided further extensions of credit to existing customers, so that those customers could wager larger amounts of money than their prior extensions of credit allowed.

The enterprise also used “runners,” such as Randall Lee Irwin and Larry Neil Gold, who dealt directly with customers on behalf of its various bookies. These runners handled customer payments and collections. To ensure prompt payment, Macho Sports fostered a violent reputation about its treatment of delinquent customers. To this end, and because Macho Sports could not rely on the legal system for debt collection, the enterprise used intimidation, threats, and violence against its customers, especially when customers were late in paying their gambling debts.

Some defendants were expected to be arraigned on the indictment Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge William McCurine, Jr.

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Posted by Pat Sherman on Jun 19, 2013. Filed under Featured Story, La Jolla, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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