Three sports bookies admitted Wednesday in federal court that they accepted bets through an online service and then collected cash payments at a liquor store.
The bookies also said they would leave winnings in marked envelopes for their clients to pick up at Tonys Party Shop on St. Andrews Road, according to testimony given as the three pleaded guilty to conducting an illegal gambling business.
Lanny Ray Gunter II, Harry B. Benenhaley and Ronald Dale Spence, the three partners in the gambling ring, will be sentenced in January. They face a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,00 fine, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday said it is unlikely any of them will spend time in prison. Instead, they most likely will receive probation, and U.S. District Judge Cameron McGowan Currie could impose a fine.
The gambling ring was uncovered this spring after two people were shot to death inside a home in an upscale, Irmo-area subdivision.
In that case, another alleged Midlands sports bookie, Brett Parker, is charged with two counts of murder in the shooting deaths of his 42-year-old wife, Tammy Jo Parker, and Bryan Capnerhurst, 46. The two were shot to death around lunchtime April 13 on the second story of the Parkers Ascot Estates home.
That day, Richland County sheriffs deputies arrived to find Brett Parker in the driveway. He told them Capnerhurst had shot his wife and that he was able to get to a gun and kill Capnerhurst.
Brett Parker sold medical supplies for Palmetto Home Medical, and his wife also sold medical supplies and sang in a band. They had two children.
Capnerhurst was assistant athletics director for the Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission, where he managed youth sports leagues. He was a married father of three. Sheriff Leon Lott has said that Capnerhurst also worked for a sports betting business run by Brett Parker.
During Wednesdays hearing, Holliday said Brett Parker had borrowed $5,000 in 2006 from Gunter to start his sports betting operation. Gunter and Benenhaley also helped Parker set the betting lines for his business.
Parker had broken off from his fathers gambling business to start his own operation, Holliday said in court. Parker repaid the loan within a few months. Parkers father, Jack Parker, has not been charged with a crime.
But that wasnt Parkers only debt to Gunter, Holliday said.
As of April 2012, Parker owed Gunter $175,000 for losing bets. Gunters outfit accepted bets through two websites, and Parker had two accounts one in his name and another through a pseudonym, Holliday said.
Parker was allowed to continue placing bets with Gunters group because every two to six weeks he would pay them somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000, Holliday said.
Fifth Circuit Solicitors office prosecutors have said Parker killed his wife because he was in debt and wanted to collect his wifes $1 million insurance policy.
That is one of the motives we have looked at and uncovered, Lott said Wednesday. Just one of them.
As part of their plea agreements, Gunter, Benenhaley and Spence have agreed to cooperate with other investigations, including the Parker case.
Their sports-betting operation had been running since 2006 in Columbia, Irmo and Chapin. Gunter, 42, was identified as the ring leader. He provided the financing and supervised the operation, Holliday said. Gunter is a co-owner of the Wild Hare sports bars in Columbia and Lexington.
Benenhaley, 66, oversaw the day-to-day operations and was a co-owner of the business. When the operation started, Benenhaley accepted bets through phone calls and text messages, Holliday said. He kept track of statistics, betting lines and made the pickups and drop-offs.
Spence, 61, ran an independent sports book business until he merged with Gunter and Benenhaley. Under their agreement, Spence kept half of the proceeds from his clients while Gunter and Benenhaley split the other half, Holliday said.
The men ran a cash operation, so its hard for investigators to place a dollar amount on the size of their betting ring, Holliday said. For an illegal gambling business to violate federal law, the business operators must earn at least $2,000 in gross revenue on any given day, and Holliday told the judge that he could prove that.
To bring federal gambling charges, prosecutors also had to show that the ring involved five or more people. Holliday said it met that threshold because employees of Tonys Party Shop accepted and distributed money on behalf of the operation. The men also had spouses and other family members who sometimes would accept bets over the phone.
Holliday said he chose not to prosecute the shop employees or other family members because they did not receive extra compensation for their assistance. Attorneys would not say who owns Tonys Party Shop, but the business alcohol license is held by Anthony Kokolis, according to the S.C. Department of Revenue.
Bettors placed their wagers on one of two websites. They were assigned a two-digit number and would leave payments in numbered envelopes at the party shop, Holliday said. They also could pick up numbered envelopes if they won a bet.
The sports betting was busiest during football and basketball seasons, often slacking off after college basketballs March Madness. In recent years, the ring had begun accepting bets on baseball, and its use of the website allowed its clients to place bets on other events such as horse races that Gunter and his co-owners were not as familiar with, Holliday said.
The ring had 30 to 35 regular clients and 25 to 30 spot players, who would occasionally place bets.
The accusations are the most serious gambling-related charges made in years against sports bookies in South Carolina, and officials have said they wont be the last.
Multiple sources have told The State newspaper that more than a half-dozen area bookies might eventually be charged. 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 further charges are pending.
Holliday said after Wednesdays hearing that sports betting in the Midlands has taken a hit since Parkers arrest led to investigations into gambling rings.
Im not going to say its shutting them down, he said. This is impacting the big time bookmaking in the Midlands and Columbia.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.