18 charged in connection with international sports gambling ring

LA JOLLA, Calif. - Eighteen people were charged in connection with an international sports gambling ring that made millions of dollars in the past decade.

Six of the suspects from the San Diego area included: Amir Mokayef, 37, from La Jolla; Michael Christopher Iaco, 30, from San Diego; Howard Alan Blum, 51, from Carlsbad; Michael John Massey, 44, from San Diego; Salvatore Giacomo Groppo, 37, from San Diego; and Benjamin John William Weber, 27, from La Mesa.

Operators of "Macho Sports" are accused of running a sports betting ring from Panama and Peru to avoid U.S. law enforcement.

According to a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday, federal investigators say the suspects are accused of pocketing millions of dollars from illegal sports wagers since 1995.

"This case highlights the connection between illegal Internet gambling operations and the violence associated with this type of racketeering activity," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Daphne Hearn. "Criminal enterprises like Macho Sports and their U.S.-based 'bookmakers' prey on the gambling addictions of their betting customers, wreaking havoc on people's lives and the lives of family members."

10News cameras were there as FBI agents raided a La Jolla home Wednesday morning (pictured). It was later determined that the home belonged to 37-year old Amir Mokayef, the man suspected of being the bookkeeper for the gambling ring.

Authorities believe Mokayef paid for his home with money collected from losing bets and managing five other "sub-rookies" who had their own customers. Mokayef was also arrested in 2001 for illegal bookkeeping but continued the operation with his co-conspirators overseas to avoid getting caught.

"Part of the scheme was, that because they had been arrested in the Southern California area, they moved their operations overseas and that made it more difficult [to detect]," said Andrew Schopler, the assistant U.S. Attorney. Schopler added the organizers often used violence against delinquent customers such as pistol-whipping, kidnapping and robbery.

"And they talked about the fact they would send collectors who used more low key means and if that did not result in payment, they would rely on the big dogs," Schopler said.

In addition to the Wednesday arrests, authorities arrested Erik Portocarrero, who is believed to be the ringleader, in Norway.

The FBI also executed warrants seeking the forfeiture of at least $5 million in property, including Mokayef's La Jolla home and a car purchased for nearly $150,000. Investigators believe the property was paid for from the illegal operation. 

The arrests come after a 2-year long investigation by the FBI, which included wiretapping and undercover agents. 

The six defendants from the San Diego-area are charged with operating an illegal gambling business. Mokayef faces an additional charge of racketeering conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Click to read the complaint

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