MIAMI (CBSMiami) — The last of nine men arrested this week for operating a little league football gambling, game-fixing and drug ring appeared in bond court Wednesday morning.
Bond was set at $100,000 for Vincent Gray, 42, who coached the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes and was one of seven Broward County coaches for the South Florida Youth Football League. All were charged with felony bookmaking.
The men were taken into custody during raids that took place throughout South Florida on Monday where an undetermined amount of cash and luxury vehicles were also seized.
Officials said they began an 18-month investigation, “Operation Dirty Play”, in 2011 after the ESPN series “Outside The Lines” aired an investigative documentary highlighting gambling on little league football in South Florida.
The investigation was stepped up two weeks ago when a coach slapped a referee when he called a game in West Park.
“It’s not because their team lost, because their kid didn’t score a touchdown, it’s because they lost $40,000 on that play, on that game,” said Lt. Frank Ballante with the Broward Sheriff’s Office Organized Crime Unit. “Why youth football? These kids are easily manipulated and these games have the potential to be manipulated.”
One former coach told CBS 4 that the problem is overblown.
“They’re trying to make these guys look like bad people but in actuality they are like the ‘dads’ who aren’t in their life,” said former coach LeJarion Muff.
But Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said there will be more arrests. He said it’s up to each city to police their youth coaches with background checks like they do in his city of Margate.
“When I was coaching, even I had to go through a background check. I passed,” said Lamberti.
Deerfield Beach started background checks last year and parent Howard Armstead whose six year old plays youth football says it’s made a huge difference.
“Especially for our park, there is no gambling going on. When it happens, it’s the kids who suffer not the coaches. They thrive when they get out of school and play football and basketball and so forth,” said Armstead.
Two of the nine arrested, including 37-year-old Brad Parker, were not coaches but were affiliated with the teams.
ESPN cameras were rolling as Parker and the others were taken into custody.
“Why were you involved in betting in youth football?” ESPN asked Parker. “My view of gambling on youth football? I don’t see it as being no problem,” Parker replied.
Five of the other nine appeared in bond court on Tuesday afternoon. Brandon Lewis, 25, and Darren Brown, 41, posted bond. The other three men remain in jail pending bond ranging from $15,000 to $100,000.
The sheriff said anyone with information on illegal youth football gambling should call their new hotline (954) 888-5259.