Offshore bets sparked probe of '05 games
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Plain Dealer Reporter
Like any good financial crime investigation, the game-fixing case against East Cleveland native Harvey "Scooter" McDougle Jr. is a matter of following the money.
Gambling industry officials say that means following a betting trail that starts in the suburbs of Detroit and ends in various Caribbean islands that have become the epicenter for online sports gambling.
McDougle, 22, was accused in a criminal complaint March 30 of conspiring with a Sterling Heights, Mich., gambler to recruit football teammates and basketball players at the University of Toledo to fix games in those two sports.
The charge against McDougle was dismissed April 18, but a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit said the investigation was continuing and that evidence would eventually be presented to a grand jury.
Nevada sports gamblers and gambling officials have said there were suspicions about Toledo football games in 2005. But unlike other college betting scandals, which were uncovered because of large amounts wagered at legal sports books in Nevada, red flags were raised about Toledo after large bets were made at offshore sports books.
Robert Walker, director of sports betting for MGM-Mirage casinos, notified the Nevada State Gaming Control Board in October 2005 after noticing suspicious changes in betting lines at offshore sports books for Toledo games against Temple (a 42-17 victory on Sept. 17) and Fresno State (a 44-14 loss on Sept. 27).
At Walker's urging, MGM-Mirage casinos stopped taking wagers on Toledo games and placed limits on the size of wagers it would accept for Mid-American Conference games. Toledo is a member of the MAC.
"He sought permission to take the games off our boards because something wasn't right," said MGM-Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman.
Walker did not return telephone calls.
Oddsmakers initially made Toledo a 30-point favorite for its game against Temple. The line dropped to 24 points by game time because of heavy wagering on Temple.
Toledo opened as a 10-point underdog against Fresno State. That number increased to 14 points by kickoff. Toledo lost by 30 after the Rockets' star quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski, now with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was held out because of a concussion he received against Temple.
The Gaming Control Board closed its investigation in December 2005, chief investigator Jerry Markling said. The control board did not take any action or notify the FBI after the investigation was completed.
Glen Walker, an oddsmaker for Intertops, an Antigua-based Internet sports book, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that wagering totals were far higher than usual for the two Toledo games. Walker did not respond to Plain Dealer interview requests.
It remains to be seen how much cooperation the FBI and federal prosecutors will receive from offshore sports books. Employees and operators of these sites have been targeted by U.S. authorities and several have been arrested in the last year after setting foot on U.S. soil.
Admissions to FBI
The criminal complaint against McDougle said he told FBI agents during an interview in December that he received a car, cash and other items from Ghazi "Gary" Manni in exchange for inside information about Toledo games.
McDougle's father and his attorney have said the former Shaw High School star does not own a car and is a typical college kid who relies on money from his parents to make ends meet. Harvey McDougle Sr. said his son was introduced to Manni by another player and met him just once.
"It looks like they're fishing for something and are using Scooter to get this guy," McDougle Sr. said.
FBI agents reported seeing McDougle and other Toledo football players meeting with Manni at a Detroit restaurant and in the VIP section of Detroit's Greektown Casino on Dec. 2, 2005.
The FBI probe relies on court-ordered wiretaps of Manni's home telephone between November 2005 and December 2006. Manni has not been charged. The five-page criminal complaint cited two recorded conversations between McDougle and Manni.
"In December 2005, McDougle was intercepted telling Gary' that he would contact other football players to see whether he and Gary' could make some money off a football game to be played by the University of Toledo football team against the University of Texas-El Paso," the criminal complaint said.
The complaint cited a second conversation in which McDougle asked Gary to place a $2,000 bet on the UTEP game for him, "at which time Gary' informed McDougle that another player would also be helping out."
The National Collegiate Athletic Association prohibits college athletes from wagering on college and professional games.
Toledo opened as a 3-point favorite against UTEP and won the game by 32 points, easily covering the point spread. McDougle did not play against UTEP and rarely saw action during the 2005 season because of a knee injury.
Small changes in betting lines are not unusual, gambling experts say.
But R.J. Bell of the gambling Web site Pregame.com is convinced that the frequency of point-spread changes for Toledo games in 2005 is evidence of subterfuge.
Point spreads or point totals -- also known as the "over-under" -- moved by two or more points seven times for Toledo games that year. On all seven occasions, wagers that moved those lines were winning bets, Bell said.
He placed the odds of this occurring at 128-to-1.
"Clearly, there are events all the time that when you look backwards the odds are astronomical," Bell said. "In this case there is a rationale for why something weird would happen. And it did happen."
Yet other gambling experts are skeptical that any of Toledo's 2005 games were fixed.
Most college point-shaving scandals have involved basketball, an easier game to fix because all five players on the court handle the basketball. In football, a limited number of players, mainly quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers, touch the ball.
Jimmy Vaccaro, sports and entertainment director for Leroy's Race and Sports Book, which takes sports wagers in 61 Nevada casinos, said there was not an extraordinary amount of money wagered on Toledo at the company's sports books in 2005.
Leroy's actually made money on about half the games, Vaccaro said.
"Something happened, but I don't think it's something we'll be talking about in five years as a huge scandal," Vaccaro said. "These kids did something, but we don't know what."