FBI agents in Southern California served search and arrest warrants Wednesday morning as part of an ongoing investigation involving an international sports gambling ring, according to officials.
Eighteen members of a group working mainly in California and Peru were arrested and charged with operating "Macho Sports" — an illegal Internet and telephone gambling business, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Four people were arrested abroad and 14 were arrested in Southern California. One arrest was made at a La Jolla home at 5848 Soledad Rd. owned by Amir Mokayef, confirmed FBI spokesperson Darrell Foxworth.
The investigation has been going on since 2011 and employed wiretaps and undercover agents.
Officials called the gambling ring "violent," because the group allegedly used intimidation and threats when it interacted with delinquent customers. The investigation also found that participants took millions of dollars in illegal sports wagers throughout the last decade in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas.
Investigators call it "extortionate debt collection." A phone call intercepted between a bookie and his customer's wife revealed that the victim was "afraid for my child's life."
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 in Southern California to assist with operations.
Officials claim Mokayef was a bookie responsible for recruiting customers and collecting on bets. They also believe the La Jolla home worth nearly $800,000 was purchased with illegal funding.
Other locals arrested today were Michael Iaco, 30; Howard Blum, 51; Michael Massey, 44; and Salvatore Groppo, 37. Mokayef allegedly served as the booking manager for the men and worked with them to pay and collect bets.
"In the state of California, as a matter of state law, sports betting is illegal,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Schopler said. “They were actually flaunting the fact they were book makers."
He also said the alleged ringleaders could face 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine each if convicted of racketeering.
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