The 10 Worst US Gambling Crime Headliners of 2021

  • Parlay bettor Tucker Patz sent violent, graphic Instagram messages to professional sports stars 
  • A father and his two sons faced charges for a $21m Massachusetts Lottery ticket cashing scheme
  • The nun principal of a California Catholic school embezzled $835,000 to fund her gambling habit
  • A man held up a Mississippi casino, stole a casino car to get away, and shot a cop in the face 
  • An Idaho woman was savagely tortured and left for dead over a suspected $3,000 casino win 

 

newspaper headline reads "shot to death"
From gambling nuns and crooked cops to kidnappings and torture, these are the ten worst gambling-related crimes to make the headlines in 2021. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Heinz 57 variety of crimes

From shoot-outs, kidnapping, and death threats, to embezzlement and good old-fashioned fraud, a Heinz 57 variety of gambling-related crimes from towns and cities across the US have hit the newsstands since the turn of the year.

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has gone on record as saying the pandemic has in part fueled a rise in crime. While this may apply to some of our worst ten incidents, lawbreakers committed other crimes years before and only came to trial or before the public eye in 2021. Ultimately, even if COVID-19 hadn’t happened, to paraphrase Stephen King, there’s no cure for dumb or greedy.

a roundup of the craziest, most desperate, and predatory gambling-related crimes

The following list is a roundup of the craziest, most desperate, and predatory gambling-related crimes that made headlines in 2021. First up at number ten is what happens when an obsessive sports gambling addict believes he can get away with anonymously threatening athletes via social media.

10. Sports bettor sends death threats to pro athletes

This crazy case dates back to July 2019, when former sports bettor Benjamin Tucker Patz – also known as “Parlay Patz” – popped off threatening messages on Instagram to four professional baseball players.

After the Chicago White Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays, Patz targeted five players with threats to “sever your neck open” and “kill your entire family.” Authorities suspected that the prolific Patz sent over 300 threats to athletes, including New England Patriots players after he allegedly lost $10,000 when the Pats won Super Bowl LIII.

targeted five players with threats to “sever your neck open” and “kill your entire family”

Patz pleaded guilty to his crimes back in March 2021. Yahoo Sports MLB took to Twitter at the time with an excerpt of some of the accused’s other outbursts:

Patz, however, got off pretty lightly with three years’ probation when District Judge Steven Merryday sentenced him in a Florida court in June 2021. The judge also ordered Patz to serve six months of home detention, undergo drug testing, complete mental health treatment, and quit gambling.

Federal agents picked up Patz’s threat-scent because he left tracks, sending some messages using a “@b82hs9” Instagram account from a Sacramento, California IP address. Not employing the smarts that made him such a successful sports bettor, a few hours later Patz signed into his “@parlaypatz” Instagram account and his personal Yahoo! e-mail account from the same IP address.

At his sentencing, a remorseful Patz said that he would “be devastated” if his parents received the same sorts of threats.

9. San Antonio, Texas sees biggest illegal gambling bust in decades

Across the other side of the US in May 2021, veterans of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) over in Texas were all in agreement that the historic bust they had just made in San Antonio was a doozy.

The court-sanctioned operation netted 100 functioning and 200 non-functional illegal gaming machines, $350,000 in cash, guns, and narcotics. In a Facebook Watch update, BCSO Sheriff Salazar said the bust was the “most extensive gambling operation any of us has ever seen in a couple of decades.”

The bust that had the BSCO old-stagers reminiscing also saw 29 people detained and eight arrested. A “16-year-old young lady” was later reunited with her family.  

Prior to the raid, plainclothes BSCO investigators gambled at the property in an undercover capacity. The investigation into the organized crime case is ongoing, with Salazar calling on the public to give his department a call so they could “see if we can’t rid your community of more gambling operations like this.”

8. Self-proclaimed wagering expert exposed as $6m Ponzi schemer

While our earlier perp Patz possessed a considerable talent for parlay betting, Matthew Peterson’s crime was all based on lies. The 51-year-old from Kansas City sold himself to victims as a sports betting expert. Instead, Peterson was a Ponzi scheming fraudster who duped at least 37 people into investing around $6m into his sports wagering investment scam between 2012 and 2016.

Assuring the victims of his sports betting mastery, Peterson concocted fictitious spreadsheets, financial statements, and wagering reports to give the impression that their investments were yielding large returns. What Peterson was really up to was illegally transferring $3.3m out of the $6m investment back to the first investors in classic Ponzi style.

convinced one victim to liquidate his 401(k) retirement account and give him the proceeds 

What makes Peterson’s crime that much more unpalatable – aside from the approximately $565,000 of investor funds he lavished on luxury vacations, gambling, and cars – was that he convinced one victim to liquidate his 401(k) retirement account and give him the proceeds. Not done there, Peterson used the same victim’s personal information to sneakily obtain an American Express card, which he proceeded to charge over $248,862.

FBI Kansas City took to Twitter in March 2021 to share news of Peterson’s sentence:

A U.S. district judge sentenced the unscrupulous fraudster – who also previously stole $16,000 from a church in a travel fraud scheme – to eight years and one month in federal prison without parole, ordering him to pay $2.5m in restitution to his victims.

7: Law finally catches up to lottery ticket-cashing family

Trying to beat the system is not an uncommon crime. Finding a loophole and cashing in over 13,000 winning lottery tickets worth millions is, however, pretty rare.

For the Massachusetts Lottery, the name Jaafar was a thorn in its side for over eight years. Ali Jaafar, dubbed the “winningest person” playing the state lottery, and his two sons Mohamed and Yousef were finally reined in in August 2021.

As Masslivenews social producer Heather Adams tweeted at the time, Ali Jaafar’s “luck might have run out”:

A U.S. District Court in Massachusetts charged the three family members last month with fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion in connection with their $21m lottery ticket cashing scheme.

The system-savvy Jaafars claimed millions in prizes for the actual winners, who potentially dodged getting their winnings garnished for unpaid state and federal taxes or child support.

In order to identify people winning the lottery with a frequency “factually or statistically improbable”, Massachusetts introduced a state policy in July 2018.

Federal prosecutors and lottery officials both concurred that the Jaafars’ $21m lottery winning haul was anything but luck.

6. Gambling nun faces 40 years for embezzling school funds

While this crime doesn’t even top $1m, it’s the barefaced greed and abuse of a trusted position in a religious school that gets it on the list. On June 8, 2021, retired California nun Mary Margaret Kreuper agreed to plead guilty to embezzling over $835,000 from a Catholic school.

Even the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California broke from its usually dry tone of voice to tweet, presumably with tongue in cheek, that the nun used some of the money “to bankroll her gambling habit”:

Kreuper’s embezzlement spree could cost her up to 40 years in prison. In her position as principal of St James Catholic School in Torrance, California, the nun used the school’s money “to pay for expenses that the order would not have approved, much less paid for,” as she admitted in her plea agreement. These included “large gambling expenses incurred at casinos and certain credit card charges,” Kreuper added.

According to GQ Magazine, Kreuper diverted school donations that she and another nun, Sister Lana Chang, would use to fund trips to Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe.

Kreuper’s behavior was out of keeping with her order, the Sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet nuns, who take a vow of poverty. And it eventually came back to bite the principal when church monsignor Michael Myers alerted an auditor that “something was off” ahead of a school financial audit.

Instead of coming clean gracefully, Kreuper allegedly directed school employees to “alter and destroy financial records.” For that alone, the twisted sister Kreuper makes our list.

5. South Carolina cop leads double life as illegal gambling kingpin 

While the perp in this crime only got one year in prison compared to the gambling nun’s potential 40, he ranks higher up the charts for his abuse of a trusted position within the community as a law enforcement officer.

On June 17, a Chief U.S. District Judge sentenced former Florence County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant Mark Edward Fuleihan to 12 months and a day in federal prison for operating an illegal gambling ring in South Carolina.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina took to Twitter to share news of the sentence:

Evidence revealed that Fuleihan and eight others charged in the case operated illicit gambling dens throughout Florence and Williamsburg since “at least” July 2014. Deposits of approximately $1m in cash went into the accounts of at least two members of the gambling ring, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said.

Fuleihan displayed over-inflated hubris in thinking he’d never get rumbled. His own sheriff’s office triggered an investigation into allegations that a senior law enforcement figure was giving gambling operators the heads-up on planned law enforcement operations.

Despite the joint Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) operation taking place, Fuleihan would reportedly call state law enforcement officials and ask to be made aware of all upcoming gambling enforcement activity.

The disgraced cop would then pass on details of the operations to his gambling cronies, who could then dodge the law and destroy evidence.

even sold seized gambling machines back to members of the illegal gambling ring

One of Fuleihan’s gambling ring members revealed the magnitude of the ex-cop’s greed. Fuleihan, the DOJ reported his crony as stating, even sold seized gambling machines back to members of the illegal gambling ring.

4. Armed robber of Mississippi casino shoots cop in the face

Our next case proves Stephen King’s view that there’s no cure for dumb. In July 2020, William Christopher Belk held up the Bok Homa Casino in Mississippi, getting away with several items.

Thinking you’re invisible to surveillance cameras is one thing. Making your getaway in a vehicle belonging to the casino is another type of stupid altogether. When part-time police officer Miguel Grimaldo spotted the casino vehicle at a gas station close to the casino, he attempted to take Belk into custody.

Making your getaway in a vehicle belonging to the casino is another type of stupid altogether.

Belk then crossed into a new realm of dumb as he attempted to flee, shooting Grimaldo in the face and arm. Grimaldo’s injuries were non-life-threatening and police officers in nearby Laurel eventually caught up with Belk… where else but in a Walmart.

On May 22, 2021, WTOK-TV took to Twitter to announce that Belk was sentenced to 16 years in prison:

Acting US Attorney Darren LaMarca made a special mention of the Choctaw Police Department of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and the FBI for the work they put into the case.

3. Ohioan husband and wife indicted for $34m illegal gambling operations

Back in 2018 in the city of Canton in Stark County, Ohio, feds raided two “skill game businesses”, Skilled Shamrock and Redemption Skill Games 777. Three years down the line on May 18, 2021, authorities arrested the operators of the two raided facilities, namely Jason Kachner, his wife Rebecca Kachner, Ronald DiPietro, and Thomas Helmick.

As it turned out during the suspects’ superseding indictment by a grand jury the following day, which was shared by the DOJ on Twitter, the four are facing federal charges linked to running illegal $34m gambling operations in Stark County.

From 2012 through 2017, gamblers wagered over $34m at Skilled Shamrock, which produced a net income in excess of $4m. In turn, the Kachner couple and Helmick allegedly conspired to defraud the IRS by falsifying tax returns.

All four Ohioans face a maximum of five years in prison for each conspiracy count, and five years’ imprisonment per illegal gambling business count. The married couple and Helmick could additionally get three years in jail for each count linked to their tax returns. 

2. Man kidnaps 84-year-old female casino patron to steal $7

Bethlehem and December are two words that fill many folks with a general sense of goodwill. But Bethlehem in the Pennsylvania of December 2019 was anything but goodwill-filled for an 84-year-old casino goer.

It was two weeks before Christmas and the octogenarian was playing the slots at Wind Creek Bethlehem Casino. Little did she know she was being watched by 39-year-old Hykeem Rasmeen Sessoms. Later as she was leaving the casino, Sessoms made his move, telling the elderly female he had a gun, threatening to kill her, and demanding money.

hit her, again demanding money, before grabbing seven $1 bills from her purse and fleeing

With cold-hearted brutality, Sessoms kicked the elderly lady into her car and told her to drive out of the casino. He later hit her, again demanding money, before grabbing seven $1 bills from her purse and fleeing on foot. 

The female – who would later get treated for a minor leg injury – called 911. The ensuing manhunt for Sessoms led to two nearby schools getting locked down. After police eventually found and arrested Sessoms, the Bethlehem Area School District tweeted that “the situation has been resolved”:

On January 27, 2021, a judge sentenced Sessoms to consecutive terms of six to 12 years each in a state prison. With a minimum of 12 years behind bars, Sessoms should have more than enough time to consider his actions.

1. Breaking Bad-like torture-kidnap over suspected casino payout

Topping our 2021 headliners is a crime likened by District Judge Dane Watkins Jr to a Breaking Bad television episode. While the cult TV series had millions of dollars of drug money on the line, an argument over $3,000 of casino winnings reportedly triggered this frenzied and brutal crime in Idaho.

In March 2020, three women in masks abducted an unnamed 33-year-old woman and subjected her to four hours of physical and emotional torture. Beaten with a socket wrench and her head shaved, she received threats that she would be shot and have her throat sliced. Stripped, blindfolded, and left for dead in a canyon suffering from multiple skull fractures, the victim was fortunate to be alive, Judge Watkins Jr remarked.

stripped, blindfolded, and left for dead in a canyon suffering from multiple skull fractures

The Madison County Sheriff’s Office-Idaho got onto Twitter on March 26 to call for the public’s help in tracking down two of the kidnappers:

Police arrested both women in April 2020. A year later in June 2021, the district judge ordered one of the kidnapper-torturers, Maddeline Ovard, 29, to serve a potential 23-year prison term for charges that included second-degree kidnapping.

The viciousness behind Ovard’s savagery perhaps lies in what Bonneville County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Randall Spencer revealed in court, namely that “the other suspects manipulated Ovard by telling her the victim was in a relationship with her ex-boyfriend.” 

The money trail all leads back to a man believed to be the ringleader behind the crime. The man, who was barred from an unnamed Idaho casino, asked the kidnap victim to claim $3,000 he had reportedly won there. The victim allegedly collected the money but did not hand it over to the ringleader.

Whether that ringleader is Anthony Hoff, whose home Spencer said the kidnappers had briefly taken the victim to, we might never know. In true Breaking Bad fashion, Hoff has since died from a drug overdose.