The Rise and Fall of the Biggest Illegal Sports-Betting Ring in Dallas History

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On a warm summer day in 2010, Merkow, the bar-owning bookie, went to a Plano deli to meet with a potential recruit. There was a fellow bookie in town from Baltimore, and Merkow was trying to lure him under the Global umbrella. The bookie planned on eventually moving to the Dallas area, but he wanted to keep his clients back in Baltimore happy. Merkow laid it on thick.

"Hey, why don't you come in?" Merkow told the possible new business partner. "You can make all kinds of money once you put it on the Internet. We'll split the profits 50-50, or we can do it 25-75, whatever you feel comfortable with." The bookie agreed to start using Global to place some layoff wagers -- hedge bets made by a bookie with too much action on one side.

The trap was set. Coburn, the Plano detective, had successfully infiltrated Merkow's world, using his be-yourself mantra to build trust. A former contractor, he took a side job doing work on Merkow's home. A rabid St. Louis Cardinals fan, he excitedly placed a $1,000 bet on the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series -- a 50-to-1 shot that would have paid $50,000 when the Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in the World Series, if only he could have collected. So when Coburn vouched for the new Baltimore bookie, Merkow bought in. He never suspected that the bookie was actually an IRS agent from Washington, D.C.

In the months that followed, the undercover IRS agent gained increasingly more access to the Global enterprise. He set up an account so his "bettors" could "place bets from Baltimore," which in fact were wagers laid by federal officers from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Plano. Global shipped cash via FedEx to a Baltimore address belonging to the feds, and the alleged bookie from Baltimore kept flying in to discuss "business" with Global bookies -- all recorded by the feds.

They made another discovery, too. Once investigators could place bets, it became easy to determine that the Global computer system in Curacao ran through a server in Miami before being routed to other parts of the country. So Parsons got a wiretap of the main computer server in Miami. As wagers were placed in real time, the feds could watch users with names like "fat-cat" log in and place bets -- and view their entire betting cycle. They could do the same with their own bets, and track it from start to finish -- right down to Coburn or others getting paid in cash. The system led them right to hundreds of bookies, complete with records of bets and transactions.

Finally, on the morning of March 20, 2011, the investigators made their move, raiding the bookmakers' homes and offices throughout the metroplex. They took evidence -- cell phones, computers, records -- and large amounts of cash, numerous gold and collectible coins, sports memorabilia, expensive cars, Rolex watches, expensive jewelry and more. At Reed's home, Parsons found a satchel containing paperwork that lays out some of the inner workings of the enterprise -- betting sheets, bookie lists, passwords and a book of Dallas Stars season tickets. Elsewhere in Reed's house, investigators rummaged through a large safe, where they found more than $100,000 in cash and $40,000 in cashier's checks. They also found signed blank checks from agents and bettors worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A few months later, Merkow came in for questioning. As U.S. Assistant Attorney Andrew Stover asked him about the sports betting enterprise, Merkow sat quietly, refusing to talk. Stover continued laying out the government's case: the recordings, the undercover bettors, the wiretapped websites, the seized documents, seized assets, financial records. Even others within the organization had turned and offered testimony to the Feds. Merkow sat stone-faced. Then a door opened, and in walked someone else with a few questions.

"Oh man, this guy's a cop?" Merkow said, looking up at the face of Detective Curtis Coburn. "He's been making bets with me for years."

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