Monday, March 30, 2015
County detectives: Illegal Lower Bucks sports betting ring busted
Posted: Saturday, March 14, 2015
To the alleged bookies he was just another customer: A Bristol resident and businessman who liked betting on football games.
But the man — known only as CI#1 — was not just another gambler. He was also working with Bucks County authorities investigating a suspected illegal betting operation that had been around at least seven years.
The two-year probe resulted in the arrest Friday of Ralph “Sharky” Sabatini, 77, of Bristol, and his alleged bookmaking partner Valerio “Val” Ungarini, 56, of Bristol Township, who are charged with running a telephone-based sports gambling operation.
Sabatini and Ungarini were arraigned before District Judge Leonard Brown on eight felony and 10 misdemeanor charges including corrupt organizations, dealing in unlawful proceeds, criminal use of a communication facility and engaging in bookmaking. Both men were released on $100,000 unsecured bail.
Bucks County Detectives started looking at the pair in 2012 after “cooperating individuals” came forward and claimed Sabatini — the uncle of Bristol Mayor Pat Sabatini — and Ungarini were running an illegal gambling business out of the basement of Ungarini’s home.
Court documents do not identify the two main confidential informants beyond describing the Bristol man as an “established businessman” with no criminal record and a second person as a Bucks resident who has provided information on illegal gambling to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.
In a meeting with Detective David Hanks in August 2012, CI#1 claimed that he started placing bets with the pair around the 2012 Super Bowl, after not placing a “personal bet” with them for several years, according to the 65-page probable cause affidavit.
The Bristol man told authorities that gamblers called in wagers on a specific phone number — and the bets were audio recorded in case there are disputes, the affidavit said.
The pair took bets for all sporting event, but mainly football games, the source told the detective. Gamblers were told to place wagers 30 minutes before the start of any sport event, authorities said.
Sabatini is the one who doled out winnings, authorities said. He’d call on Tuesdays, tell how much the person won, and the bettor picked up the winnings. Ungarini handled the losers. He called between Tuesday and Thursday with the bad news about what they owed.
Tuesdays were the day when Sabatini and Ungarini met to do their books and “settle up” with gamblers.
The agents, people who placed third-party bets, were paid a 30 percent commission on a losing bet. Sabatini and Ungarini would take a “vig” — the bookmaker’s fee — but court documents don’t detail what the cut was.
After receiving information about the gambling operation, authorities set up surveillance on the men’s homes during the start of the 2012 football season and noted a “pattern” of behavior that confirmed informant’s information including details like Sabatini arrived at Ungarini’s house prior to kickoff times of NFL games and left after kickoff.
The informant whom investigators used placed bets on NFL games through Sabatini and Ungarini in 2012, starting with the second or third week of the regular season. At that point, he was losing $2,000 to $4,000 but by the ninth regular week of NFL play — around December — he was ahead $25,000 to $30,000, according to court documents.
Following the end of the regular 2012 NFL season the investigation went inactive until the next football season, when the confidential informants confirmed the gambling operation was still in business, authorities said.
County detectives set up surveillance of the men’s homes again and observed the same pattern of behavior between the men during the NFL season. The Bristol man told authorities in November 2013 he was still placing bets with the men and he won more than $1,000.
In September 2013, Hanks spoke with CI#1 who said within the last three weeks he had placed three to four wagers on football games; during October and November he spoke with authorities and stated he was still placing bets on NFL games with the men and he won more than $1,000, police said.
In addition to the confidential informants, police obtained phone records for Sabatini and Ungarini that showed the majority of calls placed to the phone number where bets were placed occurred on days when college and NFL games were played, according to court records.
County detectives also conducted extensive surveillance at the men’s homes from 2012 through 2014 during the football season. Detectives also obtained a court order to wiretap a phone line used to place bets in January 2014.
The calls where audio was recorded had Ungarini either talking about bets on NFL games, discussing information related to gambling and betting, or talking to Sabatini regarding the bets of others, the affidavit said.
The day after the 2014 NFL Super Bowl, authorities executed search warrants at the homes of Sabatini and Ungarini. Authorities recovered computers, recorded messages of individuals playing bets, cash and bookmaking materials including a list of individuals with accounts in the operation, the affidavit said.
When they went to serve the warrants, investigators found Sabatini at Ungarini’s house. He claimed he was there to “feed the birds,” the affidavit said.
But detectives confiscated a single sheet of paper he had with him. Written on it were two two distinct columns: one headed “P.O.” – which stands for payoff; the other was headed “Collect.”
The paper also contained names. The people who bet on the previous night’s Super Bowl along with the amount of money they owed – or were owed, court documents said.