Youth coaches face gambling charges
Paula Lavigne [ARCHIVE]
October 30, 2012
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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. -- Nine youth football coaches or associates in South Florida are facing felony charges in connection with a system of rampant, elaborate and high-dollar gambling on little league football.

The charges are the result of an almost 18-month investigation by the Broward Sheriff's Office into gambling on youth football, an investigation called "Operation Dirty Play" prompted by "Outside the Lines" reporting that exposed flagrant betting during games in the South Florida Youth Football League.

Those arrested on felony bookmaking charges were: Brandon Bivins, Darren Brown, Vincent Gray, Brandon Lewis, Brad Parker, La Taurus Fort, Willie Tindal, Darron Bostic and Dave Small.

Six of the nine facing charges -- men who coached boys ages 5 to 15 -- are ex-convicts with a history of felony drug, assault and theft charges. If found guilty of felony bookmaking -- essentially organized gambling -- each could face up to five years in prison.

Though the games featured little boys, the gamblers made big bets, said Det. Solomon Barnes, whose confidential informant, along with undercover deputies, placed bets on youth football during the police investigation. Barnes said $20,000 was bet in a rivalry game between the Northwest Broward Raiders and the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes a few weeks ago. And up to $100,000 would be bet on the youth leagues' championship games of the season, he said.

"They take all innocence away from the game when they involve themselves in these criminal acts," the detective said. "And it's just mind-blowing what we discovered in this investigation."

The initial "Outside the Lines" story in May 2011 showed people exchanging money in the stands and along the sidelines in plain view of fans, children and even law enforcement. One coach swapped cash with other men at a playoff game. When "Outside the Lines" returned in December 2011 -- after league officials said they would work to deter gambling -- the flagrant betting seemed to be gone. But as detectives would later learn, the publicity only pushed the illegal wagering further underground.

Not only was the gambling in full force, Barnes said, but the coaches were the ones promoting and organizing the bets and setting point spreads on the games. The gambling involved multiple youth football leagues.

The detective said he and others witnessed two coaches taking bets on the sidelines of a game involving their own teams, another having collected a wad of cash that he waved in front of the players indicating how much was riding on them. Dozens of men crowded into a backroom gambling parlor where a special window serves those wanting to bet on youth games.

Bivins was coach and president of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes, one of the most successful youth football teams in South Florida. An affidavit describes Bivins as the owner of a barbershop that served as the front for the gambling parlor frequented by several other coaches.

"At the end, maybe close to about practice time, he would leave there and drive straight to Mills Pond Park, grab his whistle and start coaching the kids," Barnes said. Bivins also has a long rap sheet, with eight felony convictions in Florida alone, including aggravated armed assault, cocaine possession and grand theft. Barnes said the conflict is troubling.

"You're really taking the integrity out of the game. I mean, these are innocent kids at this point and that's all they know ... They're going to take pride in their team, not knowing that the president, the head of your team, is involved in all kinds of illegal activity," he said.

Police surveillance video shows a line of a couple dozen men waiting outside Bivins' barbershop in Fort Lauderdale on a recent Sunday morning. Barnes said he once counted about 50 men walk through the shop, past empty barber chairs, to what looks like a closet door in the back. The door led to a long hallway that ends in a room with three windows where people could place bets on everything from NFL and college football games and Major League Baseball to little league -- all illegal.

Sheriff Al Lamberti said deputies discovered a floor safe in the barbershop that had $37,000 in cash in it. He said that $20,000 in cash -- along with firearms -- were found in Bivins' house.

These are "coaches who are nothing more than criminals," Lamberti said. "It's about kids being exploited."

"Bivins wasn't in it for the kids, he was in it for the money."

Barnes said bettors at the barbershop got a computer-generated printout with a list of competitions, betting options and point spreads. Bettors chose a window based upon how much they wanted to wager -- $25 to $50, $50 to $100 and more than $100. When the light above a window -- which was tinted -- turned green, the next bettor stepped up.

"The person on the side of a window will grab it, enter it in the computer, take the money, hit enter, print you out a betting receipt," Barnes said. "On the receipt it'll have your wager, ID number, so they can identify which bet it was. It'll be the type of bet you have, date and time, your selections and the payout amount."

Since the "Outside the Lines" report aired, however, information about youth football games wasn't showing up on printouts, Barnes said, but the bets were still being placed at the "third window" -- the one for big wagers.

"It's all about who you know with these guys, and they have a real close circle," he said.

People still could bet at the parks, although the exchanges were discreet, he said. He described placing bets with two coaches in particular -- Small and Bostic.

Undercover investigators met the coaches in the end zone before the game. The coaches sent a representative from their staffs to talk to the investigators posing as bettors, and both parties agreed on a point spread, Barnes said. Money was exchanged and given to someone who held the wagers during the game.

"If you're in the stands looking at it, it just looks like a group of coaches having a conversation, maybe just discussing the game plan or maybe friends, but there's actual wagers going down," Barnes said.

Small is the brother of Osbert Small, a coach who was suspended by the league after he was shown in the initial "Outside the Lines" report exchanging money in the stands during a game. He said he was just "holding money" for an individual. Both men also are bail bondsmen in Broward County.

Dave Small and Bostic were two of the three men arrested who did not have prior felony records. The others have a history of multiple crimes, and some were still on probation for those convictions.

Dave Small denied involvement to "Outside the Lines"; Bivins declined to comment after being arrested during a traffic stop on the Florida Turnpike.

Bostic, who also...
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