DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — Authorities said Tuesday they uncovered a massive gambling operation targeting youth football games in South Florida, leading them to arrest nine men, including several coaches with extensive criminal backgrounds who they say exploited kids to turn a profit.
The 18-month long investigation started when ESPN journalists brought Broward County Sheriff’s officials surveillance video showing parents openly exchanging money in the stands while watching their kids’ tackle football games. Authorities later uncovered the stakes on pee wee games were high, with more than $100,000 wagered on the youth football championship.
Coaches routinely met before games and set point spreads, investigators said, but they do not believe the games were thrown or that coaches encouraged players not to complete a touchdown in order to control the outcome. Authorities said they had no evidence that the players were aware of the bets.
“It’s about kids being exploited unfortunately by greedy parents and greedy grown-ups and coaches who were basically nothing more than criminals,” Sheriff Al Lamberti said.
After months of surveillance, digging through trash cans and raiding two gambling houses, authorities arrested alleged ringleader Brandon Bivins, known as ‘Coach B’ in the community, charging him with felony bookmaking and keeping a gambling house. Eight others were also charged Monday with bookmaking and some were charged with keeping a gambling house.
It’s unclear if Bivins has an attorney. A phone message and email sent to one of the other suspect’s attorneys was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Authorities said the suspects have direct ties to the South Florida Youth Football League and several have extensive criminal histories. Bivins has been convicted of cocaine possession, grand theft auto, and marijuana possession with intent to sell.
According to the league’s website, it has 22 clubs and 6,000 players, ranging from pee wee to teens, in three counties. Many of the children come from impoverished neighborhoods.