Members of International Sports Gambling Ring Charged with Racketeering and Extortion

San Diego, California - Eighteen members of a violent gambling ring located principally in California and Peru have been charged in an indictment unsealed today with operating “Macho Sports”—an illegal Internet and telephone gambling business.

Participants in the scheme were accused of taking millions of dollars in illegal sports wagers over the last decade in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas. Earlier today, FBI agents arrested 14 of the defendants in coordinated actions in San Diego and Los Angeles while foreign counterparts arrested defendant Erik Portocarrero in Oslo, Norway. FBI agents also executed seizure warrants seeking the forfeiture of at least $5 million in property associated with Macho Sports, including a La Jolla property obtained by conspirators 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. 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. 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.

In addition to its telephone and Internet operations. Macho Sports used teams of bookies—such as Amir Mokayef (operating primarily in the San Diego area) and Joseph Barrios (operating primarily in the Los Angeles area)—who were responsible for recruiting customers, paying off winning bets, and collecting on losing bets.

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. Los Angeles-area bookie Barrios managed the sub-bookies Charles Edward Sullivan, Emed G. Sidaros (aka Action Ed), Isaac Pete Gharibeh, and Todd Michael Heflin.

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.

United States Attorney Duffy observed that billions of dollars are being made outside the law now that technology has made illegal gambling more accessible: “Illegal gambling is a thriving illegal business hiding in plain sight. The department is committed to combating this crime, which too often is characterized by organized criminals, shady bookies, serious violence, and lives in shambles because of gambling addiction.” FBI Special Agent in Charge, Daphne Hearn, commented, “This case highlights the connection between illegal Internet gambling operations and the violence associated with this type of racketeering activity. 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.”

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

An indictment itself is not evidence that the defendants committed the crimes charged. The defendants are presumed innocent until the United States meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defendants in Case Number 13CR2196-JLS:

NameAgeResidence
Jan Harald Portocarrero 40 Los Angeles, California
Erik Portocarrero 42 Lima, Peru
Amir Mokayef 37 La Jolla, California
Joseph Barrios 47 Marina Del Ray, California
Randall Lee Irwin 51 Los Angeles, California
Larry Neil Gold 53 North Hollywood, California
Charles Edward Sullivan 40 Canyon Country, California
Michael Christopher Iaco 30 San Diego, California
Emed G. Sidaros 43 Los Angeles, California
Isaac Pete Gharibeh 42 Los Angeles, California
Todd Michael Heflin 45 West Hills, California
Howard Alan Blum 51 Carlsbad, California
Michael John Massey 44 San Diego, California
Salvatore Giacomo Groppo 37 San Diego, California
Nilesh Kumar Ambubhai Patel 26 Los Angeles, California
Benjamin John William Weber 27 La Mesa, California

 

Corporate Dedendant:
Macho Sports International Corp.
Panama and Peru

Summary of Charges

Count 1: Racketeering conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs (RICO conspiracy), in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1962(c)&(d)
Maximum penalties: 20 years in prison, three years’ supervised release, and a $250,000 fine

Count 2: Illegal gambling business, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1955
Maximum penalties: five years in prison, three years’ supervised release, and a $250,000 fine

Investigating Agencies
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation

Additional information