April 12, 2016 - 3:01 pm
Five on the hop got him four to 10.
Former craps dealer Mark Branco, who prosecutors alleged led a long-running, $1 million scam against the Bellagio, received the harshest prison sentence Tuesday — up to a decade behind bars — for his role in orchestrating phony bets at the dice game.
Two other men, Jeffrey Martin, a former professional baseball player, and Anthony Granito, a friend of Branco’s, were ordered to serve three to 8.3 years behind bars.
Initially facing dozens of charges, the three each pleaded guilty late last year to one count of theft and one count of cheating at gambling.
Another former dealer, James R. Cooper Jr., who cooperated with authorities and laid out the scheme’s details, also pleaded guilty in the case, and awaits sentencing. Chief Deputy District Attorney J.P. Raman said he would ask that Cooper also be sent to prison.
“This is not about sending a message,” the prosecutor said. “It’s about punishing appropriately, and it’s about preventing anarchy.”
In 2014, casino authorities noticed a series of winning wagers they said defied 452-billion-to-1 odds.
From August 2012 to July 2014, the group scammed the Bellagio through one-time, high-risk oral propositions in which a player wagered that a specific number will be rolled next.
Cooper and Branco would have to be working the same table, according to Cooper’s grand jury testimony. As a shooter tossed the dice, Granito or Martin would mumble something that sounded like a hop bet and one of the dealers would pay out as if they had correctly wagered on whatever fell.
At the time, the felt on the craps table at Bellagio had no designated spot for such bets.
Odds are that over two years the crew would have lost $712,029, but they won $1,086,400, according to an MGM statistician. Granito had racked up more than $33,000 in comps and Martin had more than $12,000 that could have been used on shows, steak dinners, free rooms or a day at a spa. But they cashed in on very little.
Defense lawyers disputed the high-dollar figure was stolen money, saying that the group sometimes won legitimate bets.
MGM fraud examiner Sharon Tibbits said casino executives examined every roll of the dice available on surveillance while Branco and Cooper worked the tables.
Granito and Martin lost thousands of dollars on fair wagers they placed to distract attention, but always walked away with a profit because of the phantom bets.
Standing in court in a dark suit, the 43-year-old Branco wiped tears from his eyes as he pleaded for probation.
“I’m truly sorry for what I’ve done,” he said. “I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Defense lawyer Andrew Leavitt called Branco a “supportive father, good friend” and “helpful, reliable and selfless individual” with no criminal history.
Martin, who played minor league baseball for the Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds organizations between 1995 and 2002, said he was “ashamed,” “heartbroken” and “remorseful.”
The 39-year-old has worked for the Las Vegas Baseball Academy and coached young ballplayers in his own organization called Las Vegas Curve, according to his attorney Lucas Gaffney.
Martin struggled with a gambling addiction since he was a child, the attorney wrote in a sentencing memorandum, but “never participated in any sports gambling while he was involved in playing professional baseball.”
Gaffney also argued that culpability in the scheme was unclear, and the prosecutor acknowledged that Martin once won $90,000 on legitimate bets.
Granito, now 49, suffered a heart attack when he learned of the 60-count indictment against him in September and underwent triple bypass surgery, his attorney Dennis Leavitt said.
“Money got the best of me,” Granito said of his role.
In handing down the sentences, District Judge Valerie Adair pointed to the high-dollar figure pulled from the Bellagio pit game.
“It seems to me that when these offenders concocted this scheme and executed it time and time again, they had to realize that if apprehended, the likely outcome was prison,” she said. “I’m not aware of any other offenders receiving probation for like amounts.”
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