Bookies jailed, but not police

Question of tip-offs about gambling raids remains unresolved

June 23, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

The genesis of the investigation came four years ago in a tip from an FBI informant that an unknown Baltimore police officer had provided warning of search warrants in a gambling case to a big-time city bookmaker.

A resolution came in U.S. District Court in Baltimore this week and last, with the sentencing of the bookmaker, the head of another gambling operation and four underlings of the two groups -- and continuing hints but no hard evidence of police corruption.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning would not say whether the government had closed its own books on the case, but he did acknowledge that no city police officer has been indicted as a result of the investigation.

Yesterday in federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Welsh referred at one point to the government's "ongoing investigation." He also said it was "not a secret" that one of the organizations was "receiving information in advance from the Baltimore City Police Department."

Welsh declined to elaborate on his comments.

The fact that no police officer has been indicted comes as no surprise to Howard L. Cardin, the attorney for Augustine C. Tamburello.

Tamburello, whose illegal gambling operation grossed up to $2,000 a day and who was identified in court papers as the recipient of the tip-off, was sentenced Monday by U.S. District Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz to 12 months in federalprison and a $10,000 fine.

"Augie has denied that from the very beginning," Cardin said of the allegations involving the officer.

Cardin said Tamburello relied on "knowledge on the streets," not a warning from police, for information about when search warrants were about to be served.

"But for the fact that the government felt there was a police officer involved, in my opinion this would have been a state case," the attorney said after his client was sentenced.

In his plea agreement with prosecutors in April, Tamburello, 60, admitted that he impeded the investigation of his gambling business by obtaining information about impending law enforcement activities, including search warrants.

Cardin said Tamburello, of the 8300 block of Berkwood Court in Rosedale, had agreed not to contest that element of his plea agreement. Cardin said a pre-sentence investigation of his client had turned up no evidence of obstruction.

Yesterday, the other major figure in the case, Vernon Letts, was sentenced to 15 months in prison and a $30,000 fine.

According to court papers, Letts, 64, the owner of a Belair Road tavern that bears his name, headed a gambling operation based on illegal lottery betting.

The operation worked this way: Players would place bets with numbers writers or bookies on three-digit numbers from 000 to 999. The winning digits were chosen from the Maryland Lottery's midday and daily Pick 3 games, and from the results of certain horse races.

The numbers writers or bookies would turn in the money to one of Letts' clerks, who would take the money and guarantee payment to any winners.

If the amount of money bet on any three-digit number became too large, court papers said, Letts' organization would "lay off" the bet to the larger Tamburello organization, which provided similar services to several illegal gambling organizations in the area.

As part of his plea agreement with prosecutors in April, Letts, of the 9400 block of Snyder Lane in Perry Hall, agreed to forfeit $198,600 in cash seized by FBI agents in raids last August.

Like Tamburello, Letts, who court papers said also ran a $300,000-a-year sports betting ring, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to conduct an illegal gambling enterprise.

Prosecutors had originally been prepared to argue at yesterday's sentencing that Letts had also obstructed justice. But Welsh, the assistant U.S. attorney, said they changed their minds after a review of the evidence indicated that, unlike Tamburello, Letts had "provided warnings only after the raids had begun."

Letts' attorney, Timothy Gunning, had asked for a lighter fine and sentence for his client, arguing in part that "we live in a state where gambling is legalized."

Also sentenced in federal court yesterday were two people described as operatives in the organizations.

Nicholas P. Tamburello Jr., 47, of 220 Point Road in Bel Air, Augustine Tamburello's brother and a manager in his organization, received five months in a halfway house and five months on home detention.

Jacqueline Letts Rains, 39, of 36 Rose Petal Court in Carney, Vernon Letts' daughter and a $200-a-week clerk in his operation, was sentenced to two years on probation.

Last week, two clerks in the Tamburello organization were sentenced.

Theresa Foltz, 41, of 1235 Hill-dale Road in Rosedale, and Antoinette Jubb, 47, of the 2700 block of Old Joppa Road in Joppa, each received a year's probation and six months on home detention.

Last year, two clerks in Letts' organization, Michael Scudder and Daniel O'Malley, pleaded guilty to conducting an illegal gambling operation and agreed to work undercover for the government.

They have not been sentenced.

Pub Date: 6/23/99

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