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Messenger betting case nets probation, fine in plea deal

Federal prosecutors have given bettor Robert Walker a deal he couldn’t refuse in a felony case of violating currency transaction reporting laws.

Walker, a member of ACME Group Trading, a widely known sports betting business founded by gambler-developer Bill Walters, quietly pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to a single misdemeanor count of causing a violation of record keeping and procedures.

Senior U.S. District Judge Philip Pro sentenced him on the spot to one year of unsupervised probation as part of a plea agreement between prosecutors and defense lawyers.

“We very much appreciate the sentence Judge Pro gave out, which was the lightest available for him to impose,” defense lawyer Nathan Hochman, a former chief of the Justice Department’s Tax Division in Washington, said Thursday.

Walker’s indictment was brought by a federal task force led by the Internal Revenue Service investigating allegations of messenger betting at Nevada sports books. Several betting groups have come under scrutiny.

Messenger betting occurs when wagers are placed at sports books by people on behalf of others. It is illegal under Nevada law to get paid to place bets for someone else.

As part of the plea agreement, Pro on Wednesday dismissed four felony counts against Walker, 44, the director of maintenance at a golf club run by Walters.

Walker also paid a $250 fine and forfeited a $32,400 bet he made at the Golden Nugget Race & Sports Book in March 2011 on behalf of ACME Group Trading.

Walker was accused in the November 2011 indictment of failing to tell the Golden Nugget he was placing bets for ACME Group Trading, a prolific betting operation closely watched by the sports betting world.

Records show Walters started ACME Group Trading in 2005. Until October 2010, he was president, secretary and treasurer of the company listed on records as the sole manager of the sports betting operation.

Walker was originally charged with four counts of causing a financial institution, the Golden Nugget, to fail to file an accurate currency transaction report.

In four separate transactions of more than $10,000, including the $32,400 bet, Walker failed to tell sports book operators he was wagering on behalf of ACME Group Trading, the indictment alleged. The transactions, which occurred between March 19 and April 3, 2011, totaled $72,020.

By federal law, all financial institutions, including casinos, must file accurate reports of currency transactions above $10,000. The law is designed to combat money laundering.

Walker’s plea agreement came together a week before his federal trial and after Hochman and another defense lawyer, Stan Hunterton, filed court papers last month questioning whether Golden Nugget sports book officials were properly following the currency transaction reporting laws.

The lawyers said they sent a private investigator to the sports book to “engage in at least seven reportable transactions” between January and March of last year.

On each occasion, sports book employees failed to ask the investigator if he was placing bets for himself or someone else.

Walker had maintained that sports book employees never asked him whether he was betting for someone else.

The federal regulations put the burden on the casinos, not the bettor, to make sure the transaction reports are accurately filed, the defense lawyers argued.

The lawyers had requested currency transaction reports at the Golden Nugget dating to 2010, but prosecutors had not turned them over by the time the plea deal was struck with Walker this week.

On Thursday, Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden defended the case against Walker.

In a statement, Bogden said: “Walker admitted under oath and in his guilty plea agreement that he willfully did not advise the Golden Nugget that he was conducting the betting transaction on behalf of a third party, and by not doing that, Walker caused the Golden Nugget to fail to comply with federal laws pertaining to the real party of interest in financial transactions.”

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

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