The FBI is investigating whether a high-ranking Baltimore police officer helped protect a gambling ring connected to a city tavern that took in $300,000 a year in bets on lottery numbers and horse racing.
Six people have been indicted by federal authorities, who describe a sophisticated bookmaking operation that involved clerks who kept meticulous records and secretly tape-recorded telephone conversations of customers making wagers.
A now-retired city police colonel was questioned a year ago by the FBI, but reportedly is not a target. Sources familiar with the investigation said the FBI is trying to identify a high-ranking police commander who they believe aided the group.
No police officials are named in the 16-page indictment filed Dec. 9. But federal authorities said the participants tried to elude detection by "obtaining and disseminating information about impending law enforcement activities."
In March, Daniel O'Malley, a city firefighter, and Michael Scudder pleaded guilty to being part of the gambling ring and were released from federal custody after agreeing to become undercover informants for the FBI, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.
O'Malley agreed to "truthfully disclose to the government everything he knows about illegal gambling and obstruction of justice," the documents say.
The firefighter's lawyer, John Dennis Thompson, described O'Malley's role as minor. "He didn't have any information about police corruption," he said. A sentencing date for O'Malley has not been set. He could be sentenced to up to five years in !B prison, but Thompson said he expects less time because he helped the FBI.
Those indicted Dec. 6 on gambling charges are Vernon A. Letts, 64, the owner of Letts' Tavern and Restaurant in the 5400 block of Belair Road; Augustine Charles Tamburello, 59; Nicholas Pietro Tamburello Jr., 47; Antoinette Jubb, 48; Theresa Foltz, 50; and Jacqueline Letts Rains, 38.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning said the suspects were not arrested, but were ordered to appear on Dec. 30 in U.S. District Court. He would not comment on the case or on alleged police corruption. It could not be determined if any of the suspects are related.
None of those indicted could be reached for comment. Lawyers for five of the suspects said their clients plan to plead not guilty. The attorneys said their clients' houses and the bar had been raided by FBI agents about a year ago.
"All we've seen is the indictment," said Alan L. Bussard, a Towson lawyer who represents Augustine Tamburello of Southeast Baltimore. "I haven't seen anything else. We haven't gotten any discovery."
A woman who answered the phone at Letts' Tavern and declined to give her name said the owner was not available. "I don't know anything," she said.
The now-retired colonel who was questioned by the FBI, Leon N. Tomlin, adamantly denied involvement and said he did not know the six suspects under indictment. He said he had been to Letts' Tavern once four years ago and met a barmaid whose name he cannot remember.
"People make allegations, and they don't know what they are talking about," the 38-year police veteran said. "I told [the FBI] what I'm telling you. I don't know those people, and I could care less."
FBI officials declined to comment on the investigation.
Baltimore Police Col. John E. Gavrilis, chief of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, said he was assured by the FBI a year ago that Tomlin "was not a target" of the investigation.
Gavrilis said he is not aware whether any other police commander is under investigation. The department's chief spokesman, Robert W. Weinhold Jr., said the agency "always cooperates with a criminal investigation." He referred questions to the U.S. Attorney's office.
The indictment describes two gambling operations, one allegedly run by Letts out of Letts' Tavern, and another allegedly run by the Tamburellos.
Court papers say that Letts' operation "accepted bets verbally by telephone from customers" on three-digit Maryland lottery numbers. The payout was between $600 and $700 for each dollar bet on a winning lottery number.
The papers say that many customers were "sub-bookies" or "numbers writers," who took wagers from the general public "and received a commission."
Letts' group is also charged with passing bets that exceeded a certain dollar figure to the Tamburellos "to reduce the potential of a large loss on a winning bet," according to the indictment.
Federal authorities said clerks were employed to keep records of gaming transactions and used code names, call blocking devices on phones and internal police information to conceal their operation.
In his plea agreement, O'Malley admitted managing two clerks in the gambling ring from 1995 to 1997 and said he took illegal sports bets that peaked at $15,000 a week during the football season.
The U.S. attorney's office documented several clandestine meetings at suburban homes, the Ruck Towson Funeral Home and the Double-T Diner in Rosedale. Michael Ruck Sr., owner of the funeral home, said he did not know any of those indicted.
Augustine Tamburello was convicted in state court of running a gaming place in 1988 and was sentenced to probation, court records show. Letts was convicted of gambling on sports events in 1987 and 1982 and was sentenced to probation both times.
Pub Date: 12/18/98