Federal authorities have penetrated a major longtime South Carolina sports gambling ring and have gotten three alleged Columbia-area bookies to agree to plead guilty to felony charges of conducting an illegal gambling business.
Agreeing to plead guilty are Midlands residents Lanny Ray Gunter II, Harry Benenhaley and Ronald Dale Spence, according to papers filed by the U.S. Attorneys Office in Columbia. No hearing date has been set.
The three jointly operated a sports gambling enterprise, records said.
The three were charged as an outgrowth of an investigation involving another alleged Irmo sports bookie, Brett Parker, 42, who is charged with murder in the April shooting deaths of his wife, Tammy Jo, 42, and a family friend, Brian Capnerhurst, 46. The midday shootings took place at the Parkers $760,000 home in the upscale Ascot Estates subdivision.
Information on sports betting was uncovered during the Parker murder investigation and turned over to the Secret Service, said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. We have been working this jointly with the Secret Service.
Federal authorities declined comment. The records speak for themselves, said U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles.
Gunter, 42, is a Columbia area businessman who is a part owner of the Wild Hare sports bars in Irmo and Columbia.
Attorney Johnny Gasser, who represents Gunter, said in a statement Tuesday his client is cooperating with federal and local law enforcement agencies regarding the Brett Parker homicide case and Parkers gambling activities. He will continue to do so.
Gasser also said: Lanny is a family man and knew Tammy Parker and will do everything he can to assist law enforcement.
Florence attorney Rose Mary Parham, who represents Benenhaley, could not be reached for comment. Nor could Henry Taylor, who represents Spence.
The accusations are the most serious gambling-related charges made in years against sports bookies in South Carolina.
Although numerous state bookies routinely flout state and federal gambling laws and take bets from hundreds of clients especially during football season police dont normally make sports gambling arrests.
Thats because, law officers say, few people involved in the illegal activity want to be informants for police and because police have other, more serious crimes to worry about.
In any case, it has been decades since federal authorities in South Carolina have involved themselves in a gambling operation, law officers said.
Gunter, Benenhaley and Spence are said to have conducted an illegal sports gambling business since 2006, according to an information filed in U.S. District Court and made public Tuesday.
An information is a general statement of a crime to which the defendant has agreed to plead guilty. It generally means the government has such good evidence that, to avoid an indictment and a trial, the defendant will plead guilty.
The informations against Gunter, Benenhaley and Spence dont contain many details; those are almost certain to come out at the hearing in which the three formally enter their guilty pleas.
Under their plea agreement, five or more persons ... conducted, financed, managed, supervised, directed or owned all or part of said illegal gambling business. Five participants is the standard for law enforcement to bring a gambling operations case.
Penalties for the crime are up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to the papers filed in federal court, its possible that Gunter, Benenhaley and Spence will give information to authorities that leads to other gambling arrests.
Thats because as part of the plea deal, Gunter, Benenhaley and Spence have each agreed to provide federal authorities with full, complete and truthful information about all criminal activities about which he has knowledge.
The Parker case is pending, according to the 5th Judicial Circuit Solicitors office. No trial date has been set.
Although prosecutors have said they are considering seeking the death penalty in Parkers case, they have not yet filed a formal notice they would do so.
Any trial in Parkers case is at least six months to a year away. He is currently being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center without bond.
Prosecutors have said one of Parkers motives in the case was to collect his wifes life insurance, which they said was nearly $1 million. They said Parker used two guns in the incident.
Parker has told officers that Capnerhurst killed his wife, and then, in self-defense, he grabbed a gun and killed Capnerhurst.
In July, Lott, whose detectives investigated the case, said Capnerhurst worked for Brett Parkers illegal sports gambling business. Lott, who called Parker a bookie, said gambling was behind the shootings but was not the sole motive.
Gasser, a former U.S. Attorney, has represented defendants in numerous high-profile criminal cases. Among his recent clients are former S.C. Lt. Gov. Ken Ard and former Saluda County Sheriff Jason Booth. Each pleaded guilty to criminal charges, but neither went to prison.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.