The Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched what it’s calling the Internet Sports Books Initiative in a bid to crack down on the “emerging threat” of online sports betting connected with organized crime.
A week ago, the FBI’s official This Week podcast announced the commencement of its new Initiative against illegal online sports betting. The FBI claimed this business was “mostly” facilitated by “the Italian mafia and Asian crime groups” operating internationally-based websites that offer a “credit-based system” for placing sports wagers.
The Initiative “enhances efforts to disrupt and dismantle the criminal enterprises through prosecution and forfeiture.” While Supervisory Special Agent Nicholas Cheviron noted that the FBI’s efforts involved the cooperation of “local, state, federal and international partners” in achieving this aim, he offered no specifics on what, if anything, was new about the Initiative.
The FBI suffered a highly visible black eye this year via their unsuccessful prosecution of Paul Phua. The Malaysian national was arrested in July 2014 for allegedly operating an illegal online sportsbook out of three luxury villas at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, but the case was tossed this spring over the FBI’s unconstitutional evidence gathering tactics.
In an apparent effort to demonstrate its capacity to stamp out illegal betting, the FBI’s website this week trumpeted the harsh sentences meted out to two members of an “Albanian criminal organization” operating out of Philadelphia.
The gang’s “boss” Ylli Gjeli and “muscle” Fatimir Mustafaraj were sentenced to 168 and 147 months respectively for loansharking in connection with the gang’s illegal sports betting business, which included a website based outside the US that generated $2.9m in “gross profits.”
The sentences were handed down in early June. But since this news was widely publicized through the usual channels at the time – including the FBI’s own website – why did the FBI see fit to republish this news on Thursday, other than the fact that a new NFL season is just around the corner?
Sports betting is illegal outside Nevada, and until that changes, the FBI is required to crack the whip on anyone offering such services to non-Nevada residents. But whether the FBI’s new initiative represents a continuation of the status quo or something more vigorous remains to be seen.