Authorities said they uncovered a massive gambling operation targeting youth-football games in South Florida, leading them to arrest nine men — including several coaches with extensive criminal backgrounds.
DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — Authorities said Tuesday they uncovered a massive gambling operation targeting youth-football games in South Florida, leading them to arrest nine men — including several coaches with extensive criminal backgrounds who they say exploited kids to turn a profit.
The 18-month investigation 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 said they later discovered the stakes on peewee games were high, with more than $100,000 wagered on the youth-football championship.
Coaches 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 players were aware of 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.
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The league has about 6,000 players, ranging from ages 5 to 15, in three counties. Many of the children come from impoverished neighborhoods.
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 were also charged Monday with bookmaking and some were charged with keeping a gambling house.
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.
Emails and phone calls to several officers in the league were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The league’s website says the sole purpose of the league “is to benefit children” and instill wholesome values.
Bold print on the league’s website warns 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, authorities said, was the extensive criminal background of six coaches.
An affidavit claims Bivins ran a fake barbershop, complete with barber stations and vending machines, as a front for a gambling house.
Behind what appeared to be a closet door was a narrow hallway leading to a gambling room where Bivins and others took bets on professional, college and youth games behind conspicuously dark tinted windows.