By SNEJANA FARBEROV
PUBLISHED: 18:04 EST, 1 November 2012 | UPDATED: 18:04 EST, 1 November 2012
Alleged ringleader: Brandon Bivins, known as ‘Coach B’ in the community
Police in South Florida have announced the arrests of nine men, including several youth football coaches with criminal background, who they say were running a massive gambling operation exploiting kids between the ages of five and 15.
The 18-month long investigation dubbed Operation Dirty Play started when ESPN journalists brought Broward County Sheriff’s officials surveillance video showing parents openly exchanging money in the stands while watching their kids’ tackle football games.
Authorities later uncovered the stakes on pee wee games were high, with more than $100,000 wagered on the youth football championship.
Eight of the suspects were coaches or associates who routinely met before games and set point spreads, investigators said, but they do not believe the games were thrown or that coaches encouraged players not to complete a touchdown in order to control the outcome.
Authorities said they had no evidence that the young players knew about the bets.
‘It’s about kids being exploited unfortunately by greedy parents and greedy grown-ups and coaches who were basically nothing more than criminals,’ Sheriff Al Lamberti said.
An undercover officer told the station WSVN that players as young as nine years old were paid recruitment and performance bonuses as their coaches bet both on and against their own teams.
After months of surveillance, digging through trash cans and raiding two gambling houses, authorities arrested alleged ringleader Brandon Bivins, known as ‘Coach B’ in the community, charging him with felony bookmaking and keeping a gambling house.
Eight others, among them Darren Brown, Vincent Gray, Brandon Lewis, Brad Parker, La Taurus Fort, Willie Tindal, Darron Bostic and Dave Small, were also charged Monday with bookmaking and some were charged with keeping a gambling house.
Four of the nine men were held on $100,000 bond.
Four others were held on bonds ranging from $15,000 to $25,000, while one man was held without bond for violating probation.
Vincent Gray (left) and Dave Small (right) are among those arrested
Willie Tindall (left) and Lewis Brandon (right) are also alleged to have involvement and have been arrested
Authorities said the suspects have direct ties to the South Florida Youth Football League and several have extensive criminal histories. Bivins has been convicted of cocaine possession, grand theft auto, and marijuana possession with intent to sell.
According to the league’s website, it has 22 clubs and 6,000 players, ranging from pee wee to teens, in three counties. Many of the children come from impoverished neighborhoods.
The website says the sole purpose of the league ‘is to benefit children’ and instill wholesome values.
Bold print on the league’s website warns that anyone taking bets on games will be asked to leave. ‘The SFYFL is taking a hard stand on gambling, recruiting, paying kids to play and big hits on players.’
Perhaps more disturbing than the gambling operation was the extensive criminal background of six coaches, authorities said.
An affidavit claims Bivins ran a fake barbershop as a front for a gambling house. But behind what appeared to be a closet door was a narrow hallway leading to a seedy gambling room where Bivins and others took bets on professional, college and youth games behind conspicuously dark tinted windows.
An informant placed numerous bets at Red Carpet Kutz Barbershop and another gambling front, Showtime Sports, during the investigation, according to the affidavit.
Although the gambling ring targeted small children, it involved big money. People placing bets on a game at the bogus barbershop had the option of wagering $25 to $50, $50 to $100 and more than $100, according to ESPN.
Darron Bostic (left) and Darren Brown (right) are among the nine who have been arrested
Brad Parker (left) and La Taurus Fort (right) are also among the men facing charges
Authorities said they seized nearly $40,000 from a drop safe at one of the storefronts and took another $20,000 from Bivins’ home. They believe `Coach B’ was skimming off the top of the bets.
‘(Bivins has) been to Florida state prison. He’s out and he’s coaching youth football,’ Lt. Frank Ballante said.
Bivins was the president of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes, one of the most successful teams, and oversaw the coaches. He also interacted with the players, Ballante said.
Deerfield Beach City officials ramped up their background screening process for youth coaches about 18-months ago when authorities told them about the investigation, but each city is in charge of setting its own ordinances and they vary widely on the issue.
Authorities worry that betting on games can lead to violence and other crimes. The gambling bust comes after a Miami youth football coach was arrested earlier this month for punching a referee in the face during a game.
In another South Florida city, a coach followed another coach home and killed his dog in front of him, Ballante said.
Ballante warned gambling could end ‘up with a human being being shot over a football game and it’s not because their team lost a game or their kid didn’t score the touchdown it’s because they lost $40,000 on that play.’