Federal prosecutors in Columbia have set Oct. 31 as the date for the first hearing in what may turn out to be one of South Carolinas biggest sports gambling cases in years if not of all time.
At that hearing, scheduled for the Matthew Perry U.S. District Courthouse, the three alleged Midlands bookies who have agreed to plead guilty to running a criminal gambling enterprise will be arraigned before U.S. Judge Cameron McGowan Currie.
Prosecutors are expected to lay out for the first time details of the bookie operation allegedly run by defendants Lanny Ray Gunter, 42, Harry Benenhaley, 66, and Ron Dale Spence, 61, all of the Columbia area.
Multiple sources say the three are the first in a string of bookies targeted by federal prosecutors as a result of information seized during a murder investigation involving an admitted Irmo bookie.
More than a half-dozen area bookies may eventually be charged, the sources said. The sources are familiar with both the law enforcement and defense attorney sides of the case but are hesitant to speak on the record because the pleas have not been entered and further charges are pending.
Gunter, Benenhaley and Spence were charged earlier this week as an outgrowth of an investigation involving Irmo sports bookie, Brett Parker, 42.
Parker is charged with two counts of murder in the April shooting deaths of his wife, Tammy Jo, 42, and a family friend, BryanCapnerhurst, 46. The midday shootings took place at the Parkers home in the 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, who declined comment on details. We have been working this jointly with the Secret Service.
Parker is now being held without bond at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. No date for his trial has been set.
Voluminous information seized at Parkers house led law enforcement to Gunter, Benenhaley and Spence, sources said. In all, authorities have gathered records and evidence about what they say are numerous bookies and betters, as well as information about the bookies hidden gambling world, the sources said.
The agreements to plead guilty signed by Gunter, Benenhaley and Spence each contain a cooperation paragraph, meaning that federal prosecutors expect the three to provide information leading to criminal charges against other Midlands gamblers and bookies.
If Gunter, Benenhaley and Spence provide substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense, the government will move for a reduction in sentence, their plea agreements say.
Under federal law, people convicted of running a sports gambling enterprise are guilty of a felony and could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Gunter, Benenhaley and Spence also will be eligible for further reductions in their possible sentences because they were the first to step forward and accept responsibility for being involved in a sports gambling operation, sources said.
According to SLED, none of the three men has any significant criminal record.
Spence operates Spence Irrigation and Landscape in Columbia. Gunter is an owner of the Irmo and Columbia Wild Hare sports bars. It could not be confirmed where Benenhaley works.
In South Carolina, police generally dont concern themselves with bookies and gamblers. Thats because, law enforcement officials say, the police have more serious crimes to contend with and because federal law only covers sports gambling enterprises run by five or more people.
Had there not been the double murders last April that allowed police to seize gambling records at Parkers house, its likely these bookmaking charges wouldnt have been brought, sources said.
Sources said there are probably fewer people gambling through bookies around Columbia this football season.
I believe there are a lot of people laying low players and bookies, one source said.
Reach Monk at (803)771-8344.