SAN DIEGO–Two leaders and one major bookmaker for an international gambling ring pleaded guilty today to a racketeering conspiracy that took millions of dollars in illegal sports wagers over the last decade in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas.
Brothers Jan Harald Portocarrero, 42, and Erik Portocarrero, 44, admitted operating for years an Internet and telephone gambling enterprise called “Macho Sports,” which engaged in illegal activities on nearly a daily basis from its headquarters in Lima, Peru, and throughout Southern California. Joseph Barrios, 49, a bookmaker for Macho Sports, also pleaded guilty today and admitted that he recruited and managed various sub-bookies for the racketeering enterprise, directing the payment of winnings and collection of gambling debts—oftentimes using threats of force. The defendants also agreed to forfeit nearly $12 million in cash, real property and other assets seized from the illegal enterprise.
According to casinoslotsmoney.com, the FBI investigation of Macho Sports began in 2011, and employed wiretaps and undercover agents to infiltrate the organization and uncover the defendants’ illegal gambling and extortionate debt collection activities. Nearly two years ago, in coordinated law enforcement actions in Norway, Los Angeles, and San Diego, FBI agents and Norwegian police arrested 18 members of Macho Sports, and seized nearly $12 million in illegal assets. Macho Sports’ leaders, Jan Harald Portocarrero and Erik Portocarrero, were both arrested in June 2013, although they were half a world apart—Jan Portocarrero surrendered to authorities in Los Angeles, California, and Erik Portocarrero was arrested in Oslo, Norway. For the next 22 months Erik Portocarrero fought his extradition from Norway, but that legal battle ended on Wednesday when the Kingdom of Norway extradited him to the United States.
“Today’s convictions mark the end of a sophisticated international gambling criminal enterprise that preyed upon the gambling addiction of its customers,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Birnbaum. “It also reaffirms the FBI’s commitment to working with our domestic and international law enforcement partners, integrating intelligence into our criminal investigations and dismantling sophisticated criminal enterprises such as Macho Sports.”
Today, the Portocarreros and Barrios pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino, who set sentencing hearings for Jan and Erik Portcarrero on August 7, and for Joseph Barrios on September 11. Erik Portcarrero also appeared today before Magistrate Judge Ruben Brooks, who denied his request for bond.
According to the superseding indictment and admissions in court, Jan Portocarrero and Erik Portocarrero started their illegal gambling business shortly after the 1995 Super Bowl. Although originally from California, the Portocarrero brothers set up Macho Sports in Peru after being investigated for gambling crimes in the Los Angeles area. Using the Internet and toll-free telephone lines, Macho Sports accepted high-stakes sports bets from customers throughout California. The organization ensured the prompt payment of gambling debts through, among other means, intimidation and a violent reputation as to its treatment of delinquent customers. The co¬ conspirators avoided detection by laundering their illegal proceeds and maintaining a company headquarters and physical platform outside the United States. The Portocarreros employed managers in Peru to oversee the enterprise’s telephone and Internet operations, resolve disputes and adjust customers’ lines of credit. The organization also used teams of bookies—such as Amir Mokayef of La Jolla, California (who operated primarily in the San Diego area) and Joseph Barrios (who operated primarily in the Los Angeles area)—to recruit customers, pay off winning bets, and collect losing bets. Mokayef and Barrios, in turn, managed their own network of “sub-bookies” to recruit customers and collect payments. The enterprise also used “runners,” who dealt directly with customers and maintained thousands (and sometimes millions) of dollars in cash to handle customer payments and collections. Millions of dollars from these “banks”—which the conspirators kept in their homes and safe deposit boxes—were seized by authorities as part of the investigation.
“Although technology has made Internet gambling more accessible, it is a mistake for criminals to believe that they can hide behind computer terminals in foreign countries,” said U.S. Attorney Duffy. “The United States and our international partners will use all means necessary to combat and disrupt such crimes, which too often are characterized by organized criminals, shady bookies, and actual acts of violence.”
Federal officials continue to pursue charges and forfeitures against Macho Sports International Corporation—the Panamanian entity allegedly used by the enterprise to conduct and legitimize its illegal gambling operation.