FEDS PROBING REF IN MAFIA BET SCAM
July 20, 2007 -- THE FBI is investigating an NBA referee who allegedly was betting on basketball games - including ones he was officiating during the past two seasons - as part of an organized-crime probe in the Big Apple, The Post has learned.
The investigation, which began more than a year ago, is zeroing in on blockbuster allegations that the referee was making calls that affected the point spread to guarantee that he -- and the hoods who had their hooks in him -- cashed in on large bets.
A law enforcement official told the AP on the condition of anonymity that the referee was aware of the investigation and was planning to surrender next week.
The official said the bets involved thousands of dollars and were made on games during the 2005-2006 and the 2006-2007 seasons.
The NBA issued a brief statement: "We have been asked by the FBI, with whom we are working closely, not to comment on this matter at this time."
Federal agents are set to arrest the referee and a cadre of mobsters and their associates who lined their pockets, sources said.
"These are dangerous people [the referee] was involved with," a source said.
One source close to the probe counted the number of games on which the ref and his wiseguy buddies scored windfalls in the "double digits."
NBA Commissioner David Stern is aware of the investigation and has a report about the referee on his desk, another source said.
The official, whose name was withheld, allegedly wagered on games during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 NBA seasons.
James Margolin, an FBI spokesman, declined comment on the latest black eye for professional sports.
The sources indicated the referee apparently had a gambling problem, slipped into debt and fell prey to mob thugs.
" That's how he got himself into this predicament" by wagering with mob-connected bookies, one source said.
Veteran oddsmaker John Avello, at the Wynn resort on the Las Vegas Strip, said that without specific information it would be difficult to identify wagering irregularities over the last two seasons.
"At this point, it's too early to know if any games were affected," Avello said, adding that no regulators or investigators had contacted him about the case.
Jay Kornegay, executive director of the sports book at the Las Vegas Hilton, said he had never seen any unusual activity in NBA betting, and was surprised not to have heard about an investigation until Friday.
"Whispers would have happened on the street, and we would have heard something," Kornegay said. "Any type of suspicious or unusual movements, you usually hear in the industry. We’re so regulated and policed, any kind of suspicion would be discussed.
"We haven't seen anything like that in the NBA that I can remember," he said, "and we haven't been contacted by anybody."
Kornegay said legal sports betting in Nevada represents a fraction of sports betting worldwide, with 98.5 percent of all action taken outside the state.
Professional basketball has remained largely unscathed by allegations of game-fixing, although college basketball has been rocked by several scandals involving point-shaving by players, but not officials.
One of the most recent was a Boston College point-shaving scam arranged in the 1980s by mobster Henry Hill, who bribed several players. Hill later became a government informant, and his life was depicted in the movie "GoodFellas."
Having a referee in their pockets provides a two-fold bonanza to game fixers.
Gamblers would be able to directly cash in by betting on games where they knew the point spread was compromised.
But having a ref in their pocket could prove even more lucrative to crooks in a bookmaking syndicate.
Bookmakers hope to encourage an equal amount of betting on each team and make their money on the "vigorish," which is typically 10 percent of a losing bet.
But armed with the inside information, the bookmaking syndicate could set an artificial point spread that would encourage large "layoff" bets from other bookies carrying too much action on one team, that were likely now to lose.
An FBI organized-crime squad in the bureau's flagship New York office is handling the case, but the referee traveled the country officiating various games on which he allegedly bet.
It was not determined which games were allegedly affected by the referee's actions, or how much money may have been won by him and his cohorts.
The FBI got wind of the scheme while conducting a separate mob investigation.
The most prominent American sport- gambling scandal in recent history involved Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose, who was banned from baseball in 1989 for betting on his own team.
Based largely on testimony of two Rose associates, Ron Peters and Paul Janszen, Major League Baseball determined that from 1985 through 1987, Rose bet on baseball, including 52 Reds games in 1987, at a minimum of $10,000 a game.
All of Rose's bets on Cincinnati were to win.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.