Former fugitive sports gambling operator pleads guilty in US court

NEW YORK — An American operator of an Antigua-based online sport betting enterprise, who spent over 13 years as a fugitive from U.S. justice while continuing to run the business, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge on Thursday in New York.

Haden Ware, who worked at World Sports Exchange even after its owner was convicted at trial in 2000 and after his own indictment in 2002, entered his plea in federal court in Manhattan. It came a day after Ware voluntarily turned himself in to U.S. authorities after flying in from Antigua on Wednesday night.

James Henderson, his lawyer, told reporters his client “came back to resolve this.””Who wants to be an international fugitive when you’re a U.S. citizen?” Henderson said.

Under a plea agreement, Ware, 40 agreed not to appeal any sentence of 12 months or less. He was released on $150,000 bond and allowed to leave New York to travel to California and Massachusetts to see his parents, who Henderson said he had not seen in 20 years.

In the 1990s, Ware, like former owners Jay Cohen and Steve Schillinger, left his job at the Pacific Stock Exchange in San Francisco and moved to Antigua to start the World Sports Exchange.

The company was a considered a pioneer of Internet gaming that took in hundreds of millions of bets annually.

But in 1998, the U.S. Justice Department brought charges against 22 people including Cohen for their alleged involvement in operating offshore sports books that took bets from American online and over the telephone. Cohen in 2000 became the first of the defendants to be convicted at trial on charges that he violated the federal Wire Wager Act.

He was sentenced to 21 months in prison. Ware, a Boston native, was not charged initially, but was indicted with others at World Exchange in 2002.

Rather than face the charges, he and Schillinger remained in Antigua and continued to run World Sports Exchange. In 2006, Ware told ESPN it was “tough” not being able to return the country he was born in, to see his family and friends.

“It’s not fun to have any country, whether it’s the most powerful country in the world or any country, deem you to be a criminal,” he said.

In 2013, World Sports Exchange ceased operations, citing inadequate capital resources. Schillinger died days later, the victim of what Antiguan media described at the time as an apparent act of suicide.

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