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Partner in betting operation charged

A partner in a multimillion-dollar sports betting operation started by gambler-developer Billy Walters has been arrested on charges of stealing $482,883 from the group.

Ezekiel Rubalcada, 35, who police allege staged a phony carjacking to cover up a series of thefts, was in custody at the Henderson Detention Center on $131,000 bail. He will be arraigned in Henderson Justice Court at 9 a.m. Tuesday on a 33-count felony complaint charging him with theft and burglary.

Earlier this year, "60 Minutes" gave its viewers a peek into the prolific sports betting activities of Walters, who was described in the report as "the most dangerous bettor in the history of Nevada."

Walters, also known as a golf course developer, told the CBS news magazine that his gambling operation puts as much as $2 million at risk at Las Vegas sports books during pro football weekends, sometimes moving the betting lines. He said he has never had a losing year.

The thefts occurred between Jan. 18 and April 14 from an M Resort betting account belonging to ACME Group Trading, a sports wagering company Walters incorporated in July 2005, according to the 10-page complaint against Rubalcada obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Records on file with the Nevada secretary of state’s office show that until October Walters was president, secretary and treasurer of Veg Corp. Inc., the company listed as the sole manager of ACME Group Trading.

A Henderson police affidavit in Rubalcada’s arrest identified Mike Luce, the longtime president of Walters’ main corporation, the Walters Group, as "one of the members of ACME Trading Group."

Walters could not be reached for comment, and Luce did not respond to several calls for comment.

Both District Attorney David Roger and Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Rutledge, who is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.

Rubalcada, who invested $2,500 in ACME for a small share of the profits, placed wagers for the company with money deposited into the M Resort account, the police affidavit said.

Between January and April, the affidavit alleged, Rubalcada withdrew money from the account in amounts ranging from $2,000 to $130,000 on 16 occasions without notifying the company’s manager, Robert Ward.

Then on April 14, in an effort to divert attention away from his role in the thefts, Rubalcada staged a carjacking and reported it to police, the affidavit alleged.

Rubalcada told officers that as he pulled away from valet parking at M Resort in his 2004 Chevrolet Avalanche, a black four-door sedan pulled in front of him and a man wearing a ski mask got out and pointed a gun at him. He said the suspect ordered him out of the pickup, then stepped inside and sped away with nearly $360,000 in company sports betting money left in the vehicle.

Resort surveillance video confirmed that Rubalcada’s truck was commandeered, but police believe the man who took it was working with Rubalcada.

When Henderson detectives arrived at the M Resort to question Rubalcada, they found him evasive and reluctant to provide them with basic information they needed to investigate the carjacking story. They later found serious flaws in the story.

In a subsequent interview with private detective David Groover, who police said oversaw security for ACME Group Trading, Rubalcada acknowledged that he had taken money from the M Resort sports betting account for three months, but had been "trying to make the account right."

He told Groover that a man he identified as "Big Mike" was the brains behind the phony carjacking and that he owed money to him, the police affidavit alleged.

Groover could not be reached for comment.

Rubalcada refused to talk further with detectives who are attempting to identify and find "Big Mike" in the ongoing investigation.

Ward told detectives that Rubalcada had orders on April 14 to close the M Resort account and move what the company thought was $360,000 to the Palazzo.

In reality, however, only $54,366 was left in the account by that time, and that money is now missing, according to detectives.

A few weeks later, police recovered Rubalcada’s undamaged pickup locked with the keys inside. There was no cash inside the vehicle.

Ward described for detectives the security precautions the company puts in place to transfer money from one casino account to another. The partner transporting the money generally sets up a preplanned route with a company official serving as a "spotter," who follows the partner along the route to the casino where the money is to be deposited.

In Rubalcada’s case, Ward told detectives he was the spotter for what was thought to be a large transfer of funds.

He said Rubalcada didn’t follow the planned route this time, and Ward eventually lost sight of his truck.

Ward told police he later got a phone call from Rubalcada indicating that his vehicle had been stolen.

M Resort surveillance video showed that Rubalcada did not immediately report the carjacking when he returned to the casino, the arrest affidavit said.

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

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