Sheriff's office gets tips after raid

Florida deputies hear from parents of youth football players about more problems

Updated: November 4, 2012, 6:14 AM ET
By Paula Lavigne | ESPN.com

In the days after Broward (Fla.) Sheriff's deputies arrested nine youth football coaches and associates on felony bookmaking charges, more than 100 people called a special hotline set up for those concerned about crimes and gambling surrounding South Florida youth football.

Lt. Frank Ballante said many are parents calling to thank the department for taking action, but the office has received several legitimate tips about youth-football-related crimes in Broward County and surrounding jurisdictions, including Miami-Dade County. "Unfortunately, we only nicked it, and that's the truth of it," he said on Friday. "It's way more widespread than I ever would have imagined. It's everywhere."

The nine men arrested Monday and Tuesday are facing felony charges in connection with a system of rampant, elaborate and high-dollar gambling on little league football.

The charges were the result of an almost-18-month investigation by the Broward Sheriff's Office into gambling on youth football, an investigation called "Operation Dirty Play" prompted by "Outside the Lines" reporting that exposed flagrant betting during games in the South Florida Youth Football League.

Tamara Folsom, whose son played for the league's Lauderhill Lions team last year, said she didn't think the arrests last week would make any difference. A Lauderhill Lions coach, Dave Small, was among those arrested and was described in an affidavit as setting a point spread and accepting wagers at a game last year with Darron Bostic, a coach from an opposing team. Both men denied the incident. The league has since suspended Small. Bostic no longer coaches in Broward County.

"Clearly, there are bigger sharks out there that are missed and they're going untouched," Folsom said. "It'd be different if you got the big dogs. That's clearly not what you did." She said investigators also should have targeted others who are affiliated with the leagues.

Folsom said she was also upset with the way the men were forced to sit in folding chairs in a parking lot while ESPN crews asked questions and filmed them after they were taken into custody. She said Friday that it was all "media hype" and guaranteed that the gambling would go on, even at the league's super bowl games played this weekend.

That super bowl was almost in jeopardy, as officials with the high school where it was scheduled to be played wavered on whether to let the league use the field, said SFYFL Cheerleading president Deborah Jones. She said she was worried about the effect the bad publicity would have on the league long term, because league leaders have been trying to get rid of the gambling since last year.

"We want our parks as safe as possible. We've been working hard to clean it up," she said.

SFYFL president Mike Spivey issued a statement last week saying the same and noting that most of the men arrested (seven to be exact) coach teams that split from the league last year and now belong to the Florida Youth Football League.

Florida Youth Football League president Martin Maultsby could not be reached for comment.

[+] EnlargeGambling Barbershop Raid
Greg Amante/ESPNBroward (Fla.) Sheriff's Office deputies on Monday raided this barbershop they say acted as a front for a bookmaking operation that included bets being placed on youth football leagues in South Florida.

Six of the nine facing charges -- men who coached boys ages 5 to 15 -- are ex-convicts with a history of felony drug, assault and theft charges. If found guilty of felony bookmaking -- essentially, organized gambling -- each could face up to five years in prison.

During a news conference Tuesday, Ballante said deputies were concerned about the gambling leading to violence, citing two recent incidents involving youth football in South Florida in which money riding on the game could have been a factor.

A coach -- who had a criminal record -- punched a referee during a game, and just a few days later in an unrelated incident, another coach shot an opposing coach's dog at his house.

When Ballante addressed about 75 law enforcement officers Monday at the Broward Sheriff's Office's Deerfield Beach station before they headed out on the arrests, he told them not to underestimate the suspects just because of the gambling charges.

"They don't involve themselves in this football because they care about kids or they want to be role models or mentors," he said. "They do it for one reason and one reason only: They do it to line their pockets."

Ballante noted the felony criminal backgrounds of several of the suspects, especially Brandon Bivins, who deputies considered the ringleader of the gambling operation they broke up. Bivins was coach and president of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes, one of the most successful youth football teams in South Florida. Bivins has a long rap sheet, with eight felony convictions in Florida alone, including aggravated armed assault, cocaine possession and grand theft.

An affidavit describes Bivins as the owner of a barbershop that served as the front for the gambling parlor frequented by several other coaches. He denies the charges against him.

Sheriff Al Lamberti said deputies discovered a floor safe in the barbershop that had $38,000 in cash in it. He said that $19,000 in cash -- along with firearms -- were found in Bivins' house. Bivins isn't allowed to own a gun. Ballante said that while many of the other suspects -- if convicted of the third-degree felony -- might just get probation for their crimes, the gun and Bivins' criminal history might result in some "serious prison time."

Jones, the cheerleading president, said that although she didn't appreciate how the sheriff's department handled the arrests, she hopes the arrests at least send a message.

"I'm hoping that these guys wake up, whoever has an inclination of gambling on kids and games," she said. "I've never appreciated that and I never will."

Producer Greg Amante from ESPN's Enterprise Unit contributed to this report.