Youth Coaches Face Gambling Charges

Paula Lavigne, ESPN, October 30, 2012

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.

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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.

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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. {snip}

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.

[Brandon] 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.

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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.

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In the wake of the arrests are the children on whose backs these coaches have made thousands of dollars, Barnes said.

“They’re pretty much taking the illegal gained money through their criminal enterprise or criminal activity . . . and they’re placing these large sums of monies on youth football,” Barnes said. “We’ve seen violence escalate at these games, we’ve seen shootings, we’ve seen fights, arguments between coaches and it’s just so unfortunate for the kids that are involved because many of them have no idea. They just want to be a part of something that’s positive.”

Barnes said it’s likely that the gambling was such a force in youth football that it actually led to the creation of a new league. After the ESPN “Outside the Lines” report, South Florida Youth Football League president Mike Spivey vowed to stem the gambling, even going so far as to have coaches watch the ESPN report before they could get recertified. He also hired more off-duty officers to police the games.

Barnes said that the crackdown appears to have prompted some team leaders, including Bivins, to leave before the current season and form a new league called the Florida Youth Football League. The FYFL gained quite a bit of media attention when it was formed because it receives backing from rap artists Flo Rida and Luther Campbell.

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