These days, the biggest lock of Anthony Boscarino's life figures to be the one on the penitentiary cell door.
But there was a time not so long ago that the 44-year-old Phoenix resident was a highly successful Internet sports handicapper and a Strip casino high roller with accounts at the MGM Grand, Bellagio and Mandalay Bay. As the master manipulator behind the "Mike's Lock Club" website, authorities believe Boscarino collected $7.69 million from customers who bought into his Mike Brown Internet character, who contended he had 45 years of sports handicapping experience and had developed a betting system that generated winners 74 percent of the time.
Forget that the actual "Mike Brown" had just turned 40 and had a felony conviction for forgery. On the website, he all but guaranteed success.
Believe it or not, a small army of suckers bought into his story line. Customers paid less than $50 a month to subscribe to his picks. Some coughed up $5,000 for a lifetime "VIP" membership. In exchange, he emailed them his game selections and transferred their money to a Desert Federal Credit Union account, then moved at least $4 million on to Strip casino accounts.
But, wait. There's more. Not only was Mike Brown a 74-percenter, he also had the inside scoop on how to beat the high-limit slot machines in Vegas. He provided a story line that included a friend, "Anthony G.," with a son who worked for a major slot machine manufacturer. The kid, it seemed, had gained possession of "the blueprint of the pay cycles." And in short order Anthony G. had tripled investors' money.
There was one problem, according to the Boscarino indictment.
"Anthony G. did not exist."
Don't you hate it when reality rears its ugly head and ruins a classic Vegas, something-for-nothing fantasy?
Boscarino worked his email solicitation lists encouraging members to "invest" in "Anthony's Outings" at Aria, Bellagio, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay from May 2008 to February 2010. Of course, the outings didn't exist.
And when the "investments" didn't pay off, Boscarino reported to his clients that Anthony G. had lost money because those pesky slot folks at Bellagio switched computer chips inside the high-limit machines.
As the months passed, Boscarino touted Anthony G's wins at the slots from 14 percent to a whopping 1,204 percent. And people believed him. One sucker dropped $50,000 on the scam.
That's right. Rather than fly to Las Vegas and probably lose the money himself, he chose to send it to Boscarino, who fed his gambling habit and benefits as a high-end customer.
What Boscarino didn't gamble away he used to support a high-rolling home life with wife Marguerite Gerhart.
By the time the Securities and Exchange Commission, IRS and FBI stopped him, his Internet deception had generated millions. While some will wonder why it took so long to unravel his scheme - his 74 percent winning record was laughable on its face - by August 2010 Boscarino was slammed with an 88-count indictment alleging wire fraud, money laundering, mail fraud, tax evasion and firearms charges.
Not even Mike Brown at his most creative would have given Boscarino favorable odds of beating the rap.
A strange thing happened on the way to Boscarino's March 19 trial date, something as improbable as one of his suckers having a winning season. This past week in Tucson, Ariz., Boscarino changed his plea to guilty to 85 of 88 charges. Despite his experience in handicapping the justice system, he folded under the weight of the evidence without signing a plea agreement.
Boscarino is done, but somewhere in cyberspace another "Mike Brown" prepares a guaranteed winner just in time for the Super Bowl.
And for just a few bucks, he'll send it to you and make you a member of an exclusive insider's club.
Consider that the lock of every season.
John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Smith