As Georgia considers the legalization of sports betting, the FBI has cracked down on illegal bookmaking.
Three men pleaded guilty recently after FBI agents busted an illegal gambling scheme in the Peach State. The operation involved illicit bookmaking and money laundering.
Two Georgia men and a man from South Carolina admitted their participation late last week. The trio faces prison time for activity federal officials say lasted longer than a decade. In addition, they will forfeit hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution.
It’s the latest example of the black-market sportsbook lawmakers across the country hope to eradicate by legalizing the industry. That includes Georgia.
An illegal sportsbook, a tire shop and Costa Rica
Two Waynesboro residents — Grady Brandon Mobley, 44; and Daniel Cates, 50 — and 59-year-old South Carolinian Joel Rees sit at the center of the case.
Each pleaded guilty to federal charges of prohibition of an illegal gambling business. Mobley tacked on a guilty plea to fraud and false statements.
Information released by the Department of Justice indicated that Mobley ran an illegal sportsbook for at least a decade in Burke County. He began by collecting bets and paying winnings himself before transitioning to a Costa Rican website.
Then, in 2015, Mobley merged his book with a smaller “gambling ring” run by Jones, according to a public release.
The two began splitting profits. And from 2015 to 2017, Mobley cashed $220,000 in checks at Mobley Package Shop in Girard, where his parents ran a check-cashing business.
Mobley later worked with Cates to launder his winnings. Cates admitted to investigators that he ran around $250,000 in gambling funds through Cates Firestone, his Waynesboro tire shop. In return, Mobley provided money and favors.
At the same time, Mobley admitted, he filed false income tax returns to hide his money-making operation.
Arrests came after ‘greed ultimately caught up with them’
After the plea agreements, Mobley now faces 12 months and one day in federal prison. He has also forfeited $340,084 and agreed to pay $207,716 in restitution to state and federal tax departments.
Cates, meanwhile, will forfeit $100,000.
“These men participated in an illegal gambling operation for at least a decade in the Waynesboro area,” said Acting US Attorney David Estes, “eventually funneling business through a foreign-based website.”
“But even that offshore venture wouldn’t keep them out of the reach of diligent law enforcement professionals who turned the tables on this illicit operation.”
All three have been released on bond “pending sentencing and formal acceptance of the plea agreement at a later date,” according to federal officials.
“No matter how hard these defendants tried to hide their illegal operation, their greed ultimately caught up with them,” said Chris Hacker, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta.
Where does Georgia sports betting legalization stand?
The situation highlights what has become a bizarre scenario. Arrests made in one state for what has become legal and even incentivized in other states.
While many Americans now have a bevy of legal, online sports betting options, Georgia residents are left with either the black market and bookies like Mobley or trips to a neighboring state.
That could change soon, if all goes to plan.
Progress was made recently by passing sports betting legislation in the Georgia Senate and later out of a House committee, despite conflict between lawmakers and NBA stars like Lebron James.
House committee members, however, have complicated that process by choosing to not include collegiate betting in their legislative version, something that would undoubtedly keep alive Georgia’s black market.
Not offering college betting would also likely have a severe impact on generated revenue, as seen in states like Oregon.
It all means there are plenty of kinks to work out before Georgia’s legislative session ends on March 31.