Longtime Midlands sports bookie Jack Parker won what was likely the biggest bet of his life Wednesday when a federal judge gave him probation instead of hard prison time for running an organized gambling ring.
“Other than gambling, you have had an honorable life,” U.S. Judge Cameron McGowan Currie told Parker, as she cited numerous circumstances that inclined her to leniency, including his role in his grandchildren’s lives.
In 2013, a federal jury in Columbia convicted Parker and a gambling colleague, Doug Taylor, of running an illegal gambling ring. At that time, Judge Cameron McGowan Currie sentenced Parker to five months in prison, and Taylor to a mix of home detention and probation. The verdicts and sentences were overturned on appeal.
After a second federal trial in January, where a jury again found the pair guilty, Currie was expected to give Parker prison again and give Taylor a non-prison sentence.
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On Wednesday, Currie again gave Taylor, who had played a much lesser role in the gambling operation, a non-prison sentence after attorney Tivis Sutherland asked for leniency.
But, she noted, numerous things have happened since the 2013 trial that persuaded her not to send Parker to prison. He could have received a maximum of five years, and federal sentencing guidelines indicated he should serve at least 10 months.
Most of all, the judge said, Parker has been an excellent grandfather to his two grandchildren at a tough time in their lives.
“Frankly, I considered the grandchildren,” Currie told a courtroom full of Parker’s friends and relatives at his sentencing hearing at the U.S. courthouse in Columbia.
“I am simply not willing to rip the heart out of this situation, and punish those children even more,” Currie said.
Saying she doesn’t normally consider children’s situations when sentencing a defendant, Currie noted the grandchildren’s mother had been shot to death by their father, who is going to be in prison for the rest of his life, and that Parker and his wife, Linda, had stepped in and were raising the children.
Parker’s granddaughter, 17, will be entering a top public university next year, the 9-year-old boy is becoming an excellent athlete, and Parker goes to all his sporting events, a brief filed by Parker’s lawyers.
Parker is the father of Brett Parker, an Irmo area sports bookie who was convicted in 2013 of the slayings of his wife, Tammy Jo Parker, and a friend, Bryan Capnerhurst, who worked in the bookie operation. Brett Parker is now serving life without parole in state prison. The killings, and Brett Parker’s three-week trial, riveted the Columbia area in 2012 and 2013.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Wicker did not object to Currie’s sentence.
Additional considerations in showing mercy to Parker, Currie said, were that Parker had forfeited $67,000 in the case, that the physical evidence only concerned one 17-week college basketball season in 2011-2012, that he has stopped being a bookie, that he has no criminal record and that he has been a good citizen.
Currie also said if she had sentenced Parker to confinement, she would have recommended that he go to a low-security community facility in the Columbia area. But those facilities have been hit by overcrowding lately due to a federal program that is releasing low-threat inmates early, she said.
Parker’s lawyers, Josh Kendrick and Chris Leonard, raised other points in their written plea for mercy: Parker is an ex-Marine, he has spent “countless hours” raising money and assisting burn victims, and Parker suffers from diabetes and heart disease and so takes numerous medications, the lawyers said.
The two trials of Parker and Taylor gave juries a rare peek into the sports-crazed world of Midlands gambling, where for years illegal bookies known to their betting clients took wagers year-round, but especially during football and basketball seasons.
During the trials, jurors heard testimony about shredders and “burn piles” in which the bookies destroyed evidence, and about a telephone exchange in Las Vegas where Midlands bookies could get the latest “lines” – betting handicapping points – and about piles of cash.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Currie, as she was required to do by the law, instructed Parker that he had the right to appeal the sentence.
After court, a reporter asked a happy Parker if he was going to appeal his probation, which includes 100 hours of community service.
“NO WAY,” exclaimed the one-time gambler. “And you can put that in capital letters!”