Monday, August 11, 2008
'Seven or eight' scouts linked to gambling investigation
By Mike Fish
A former Washington Nationals part-time scout is at the center of a probe by Major League Baseball that has led to the firing of one scout and could result in disciplinary action against at least seven others, ESPN.com has learned.
Frank Falzarano, 54, of Seaford, Long Island, pleaded guilty in April to felony enterprise corruption and gambling charges and is to appear Sept. 24 in Queens County, N.Y., Supreme Court. Falzarano, who is free on $200,000 bail, faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.
Sources close to the bookmaking probe identified one of the alleged bettors as Alan Marr, a respected high-ranking scout fired by the Baltimore Orioles last month. Marr acknowledged knowing Falzarano, but declined further comment when reached by ESPN.com at his home in Sarasota, Fla.
The investigation has identified "seven or eight" other scouts who bet through Falzarano, though it's possible that number could grow as New York City police continue to pursue the case. Major League Baseball's newly formed investigative unit is assisting law enforcement.
To date, only Marr has been fired by his club and no disciplinary action has been taken by MLB against any of the scouts. It is expected, however, that a report will be forwarded to Bud Selig within 30 days and that the baseball commissioner could discipline Marr and perhaps the others. The scouts are under investigation only for placing bets and not for being involved in the bookmaking operation.
Marr's name was first to surface, sources said, because he had a longer relationship with Falzarano and his name came up more frequently during the investigation. Two sources said investigators captured Marr in phone conversations with the bookie, Falzarano.
According to the indictment, the Long Island-based gambling operation took bets on professional baseball, basketball, hockey and football games between March 8 and Dec. 5, 2007. Sources, however, said none of the scouts is believed to have bet on baseball. Marr, a one-time middle infielder in the Giants' minor league system, is believed to have limited his betting to football and basketball games.
Falzarano was last affiliated with baseball in 2006, when he served as a part-time area scout, known in baseball circles as a "bird dog." His contract with the Nationals was not renewed after that season. He reportedly also had scouted on a part-time basis in the past for the San Francisco Giants and the Florida Marlins.
Marr, 50, had been with the Orioles since 2004 and was the No. 2 person behind director Joe Jordan in the AL East team's amateur scouting department. He previously spent five years as East Coast scouting supervisor for the Giants, and his most notable find for them was Joe Nathan, now an All-Star closer with the Minnesota Twins.
With Baltimore, Marr had been a valuable set of eyes for his boss, Jordan, traveling coast-to-coast as a cross-checker to evaluate players recommended by the team's 15 full-time scouts and three regional scouting supervisors.
"From a baseball standpoint, [Marr] is one of those guys that never really turns it off," Jordan said. "He is 24/7. I had to tell him to go home at times because he would stay out and try to get to see as many guys as he could. He cared a lot about getting to the scouts' players."
Marr's fall from grace surprised many in the scouting fraternity, where he had risen through the ranks and was known for a dogged work ethic. Word of a gambling scandal had been a hot topic for months, scouts said, although Marr wasn't suspected until his firing. One American League scouting director, who asked not to be identified, said that in the short term, it's a serious blow to the Orioles' scouting department.
"I wasn't familiar with his personal life, but professionally he was all about scouting," said John Mirabelli, the Cleveland Indians' assistant general manager of scouting operations. "He was a very passionate, committed baseball guy. He lived it, breathed it.
"Nobody worked harder than that guy, I can tell you that. I had a lot of respect for him. I think the industry did as a professional. I respected how he went about his job and his judgment, which is the most important thing in a scout."
The Baltimore Sun first reported Marr's termination on July 5. SI.com later reported his name had surfaced from Major League Baseball's investigative unit in conjunction with an unidentified probe into illegal gambling.
Marr is originally from New York, and investigators identified him as a longtime friend of Falzarano's.
The indictment describes Falzarano as the kingpin behind the bookmaking operation, saying he "controlled and oversaw the enterprise, constituting the final authority on decisions affecting the overall operation of the enterprise." Wagers were accepted primarily through a toll-free telephone line, as well as an Internet Web site.
"It wasn't online betting" in Marr's case, a source told ESPN.com. "It was more 'Pick up the phone and call him.'"
The friendship between Marr and Falzarano dates to the mid-1990s, when Falzarano, playing in an over-30 baseball league, regularly came by a Long Island batting facility where Marr worked in the offseason. Falzarano eventually made inroads into the scouting fraternity through Marr.
The FBI first approached Marr in his Florida home this past November. Although the Orioles fired him on June 27, MLB has not announced the terms of any suspension he could be facing.
"My guess is it is going be pretty tough, at least in the short term," Mirabelli said. "I know the guy is a character guy. I think he has a big heart. And I think there are probably a lot worse things that people have done in the game and they are still in it. If you put everything aside, I would consider hiring him, yeah, absolutely. I'm guessing it is a one-time mistake, a big mistake."
Marr was not named in the indictment and presumably would have been called as a witness had Falzarano gone to trial. Sources said Marr and the other bettors are not likely to be charged.
Also indicted with Falzarano were Robert Jacobs, the controller who managed the day-to-day affairs of the operation; Joseph Fowles; Michael Moore; Sal Portannese; Peter Caliendo; Jeff Palsen; and Scott Slone.
Falzarano declined comment when reached by phone, saying "Talk to my lawyer."
His attorney, Peter Tomao, said, "At this point, I can't give you any information."
This isn't the first time law enforcement has charged Falzarano in a major gambling scheme. In June 2007, the former scout pleaded guilty in Queens County to attempted enterprise corruption and was sentenced to conditional discharge. In that case, Falzarano was among 27 people charged in connection with a massive illegal Internet gambling operation, which authorities said rivaled Las Vegas casinos and booked more than $3.3 billion in wagers over a 28-month period.
Falzarano was alleged to have been a top earner in a network of more than 2,000 bookies who used the sports gambling Web site.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.