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Here's a game tip: Don't wager on it

With the Super Bowl in town, detectives in Pinellas have stepped up enforcement of gambling rules.

By CHRIS TISCH

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2001


It may seem like innocent fun. Everyone tosses in a couple of bucks to claim a square or two in a football pool, and whoever has the square at the crossroads of the last two numbers in the final score of the game claims the pot.

But according to Florida law, it is a crime. And Pinellas County vice detectives arrested six people in the past 10 days on charges that they were involved in running pools on the biggest football game of the year -- today's Super Bowl.

Though often faced with smart-aleck "Don't you have something better to do?" remarks, vice detectives say they must enforce the law if they receive complaints about gambling.

"When they get complaints and tips that these events are happening, they have to go and investigate," said Sgt. Greg Tita, a Sheriff's Office spokesman, who added that gambling enforcement was stepped up last week because of the Super Bowl.

"And we very seldom give warnings," he added. "We make arrests and give notices to appear (in court)."

However, Tita said that not all complaints will result in arrests. If vice detectives learn of a small office pool or bets among a group of friends, they may call the business and "tell them to knock it off," he said.

But if bigger money is at stake, or if the pool spreads outside just a group of buddies, detectives will move in, issue notices to appear in court or file misdemeanor -- or even felony -- charges.

The two pools busted by Pinellas vice detectives in the past 10 days were bigger than office pools, investigators said.

Detectives said a Palm Harbor man ran a pool out of a sandwich truck he used to serve people lunch outside their workplaces. The second was at a Seminole pub where two bartenders and a manager were arrested on charges that they sold squares to an undercover detective.

One law enforcement observer said that level of enforcement is rare, but not unprecedented.

"It's fairly unusual for them to be enforcing this law," said Michael Seigel, associate dean for the University of Florida Levin College of Law. "But if they (the suspects) are doing it sort of commercially as opposed to at a private party with a group of friends, I think that's where the police would see it as a problem worth cracking down on.

"There can be a fair amount of money involved in these things," Seigel added. "And if they are getting complaints about it, then it has risen to a level that citizens are asking for action. And if it's a violation of the law, then they need to do something about it."

Detectives moved in on the Dublin House Pub, 477 Seminole Blvd., in November after receiving a tip that pools were being run there. Tita said the Florida Division of Alcohol Beverages and Tobacco complained about the pools.

Undercover detectives bought 10 tickets at the pub over a two-month period, then arrested a manager and two bartenders on felony charges Wednesday. Manager Lynn Plunkett, 35, was arrested on one charge of having an illegal lottery; bartender Joann Puma, 48, was arrested on two of those counts; and bartender Jacqueline Torrens, 39, was arrested on eight counts, according to records.

Reached at the pub, Torrens referred questions to her attorney, who could not be reached for comment. She said neither the other two women nor the restaurant management had any comment.

Vice Detective J. Thibodeaux, who investigated that case, said some pools were for Monday Night Football games, others for the Super Bowl. She said betting sheets on NASCAR also were being filled in at the pub, though no charges were filed in connection with that.

Thibodeaux said investigators pursued arrests because the suspects knew the pool was illegal and opened it up to anyone who came into the business. The pools also had been going on for years, she said.

"It's part of the vice laws," said Thibodeaux, who is one of five vice detectives working at the Sheriff's Office. "And whether I agree or disagree, it's the law."

The second such investigation involved a sandwich truck driven by David A. Maronpot, 53. Detectives received a tip from a man who had won a pool but claimed Maronpot didn't pay him what was owed, Vice Detective Jim Brueckner said.

Detectives launched an investigation in October that included surveillance of Maronpot, who steered his truck to industrial-park and business areas throughout Pinellas County to offer people sandwiches.

The investigation resulted in the arrest last week of Maronpot on charges of conducting a lottery and bookmaking. He was charged with bookmaking, a felony, because he also was letting customers bet on spreads in college and professional football games, Brueckner said.

A partner who worked with him on the truck, David Scott Musgove, 48, also was charged with conducting a lottery.

A third man, James I. McDougall, 37, provided betting slips to Maronpot and was charged with bookmaking, according to arrest reports.

The betting went on throughout the football season, with Maronpot providing the revenue to McDougall but keeping a slice for himself, Brueckner said.

Maronpot and Musgove offered a Super Bowl pool in which they sold squares for $25, offering $2,250 to the winner and pocketing $250 for themselves, Brueckner said.

Maronpot said he has never been arrested in his life. He said he worries the arrest will cause problems between him and his wife and for his five children. Maronpot also has been a Little League baseball coach for 17 years.

"My life is shattered," he said. "My life is totally in tatters. We've done nothing but cry for a week."

Though Maronpot said his customers feel his arrest wasn't warranted, he acknowledges what he did was illegal.

"I know I screwed up," he said. "Of course, there's more important things they could do. But what I did was wrong, and I knew it. . . . But everybody else does it."

Sheriff's officials said although they will use judgment during investigations, pools that attract hundreds of customers demand arrests.

"I know it happens all the time," Brueckner said of pools. "Everyone and their brother does it."

The Times even published an article Wednesday explaining how to run a football pool, though the article did mention that running a pool with money is illegal.

Tita said it's possible some people don't know pools are illegal, but he said, "The ignorance of the law is no excuse. Even though you may not know you're breaking the law, lotteries are illegal."

Seigel said Florida has a reputation of being "a fairly strict state in prohibiting gambling. The state authorities have typically been pretty vigilant," he said.

Sheriff's officials said the people who place the bets typically are not arrested, though they could face a misdemeanor gambling charge. Instead, those people are used as witnesses against the person who runs the pool.

Seigel said that law enforcement also cracks down on pools because they could lead to larger gambling operations.

"They're trying to make a point," he said. "It's not that much different than a Web site taking bets. You could see a pretty lucrative business coming into place pretty quickly. And it's illegal.

"They may have a zero tolerance that will nip it in the bud so there's not larger problems. It's not an unreasonable way to handle it. I think the important thing is, are they exercising judgment?"

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