Undercover reporting from ESPN led Florida police to arrest nine men on Monday for betting on peewee football games – as much as $100,000 on a championship game.
“Outside the Lines” filmed spectators trading hundreds of dollars while watching South Florida Youth Football League games, prompting an 18-month Broward County police investigation called “Operation Dirty Play” that culminated with Monday’s arrests.
“They take all innocence away from the game when they involve themselves in these criminal acts,” Detective Solomon Barnes told ESPN. “And it’s just mind-blowing what we discovered in this investigation.”
However, police say it runs deeper than that.
Most of the men have criminal records, and those arrested either were coaches or affiliated with teams in the league.
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NBC Miami said one man, Brandon Bivins, has nine previous felony convictions.
The 36-year-old Bivins was coach and president of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes, NBC said.
“But he wasn’t in it for the kids, he was in it for the money. He even went to the length of setting up a fake barber shop in the city of Lauderhill that was really a bookmaking facility,” Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said.
It became so intense, gamblers would establish point spreads and hand out money to players who helped them win bets, The Associated Press reported.
“It’s about kids being exploited, unfortunately, by greedy parents and greedy grown-ups and coaches who were basically nothing more than criminals,” Lamberti told AP.
The league has 6,000 players ranging in age from 5 to 15.
There’s no evidence that gamblers intimidated players or coaxed kids into fixing games; however, some of those involved had convictions for drug possession and grand theft auto, the AP reported.
They would also give kids hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in a twisted version of performance bonuses.
According to 14-year NFL veteran Al Harris, who played in the SFYFL, the gambling is being done by drug dealers.
Worse yet, Harris told ESPN, when criminals gather with money on the line, guns and violence are likely to follow.
“Just to be straightforward, these guys, they’re drug dealers who are doing this gambling,” said Harris, now with the St. Louis Rams.
“They’re the only guys that have this type of money to bet on little kids.”
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