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22 indicted in illegal gambling and drug ring that feds say was led by former USC athlete

Twenty-two people have been charged with participating in an illegal sports gambling and international drug-smuggling ring operated by a former USC football and volleyball player, according to federal court documents.

Authorities arrested 19 people in Los Angeles, Orange, Sacramento and San Diego counties Wednesday in connection with the operation. Arrests also were made in Louisiana, Phoenix and Virginia. They were named in a 22-page indictment unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Diego, charging them with racketeering conspiracy, drug trafficking, illegal gambling and money laundering.

The crimes are said to have occurred between June 2011 and this month.

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Led by Owen Hanson, who was a USC athlete more than a decade ago, the “ODOG” operations used violence and threatened customers into paying off debts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego. Hanson, who went by “O-Dog,” was arrested in September at a golf course in Carlsbad.

Derek Loville, a former Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos running back, also is accused of distributing drugs for Hanson in Arizona, according to the indictment.

The operation was far-reaching, with connections in Mexico, the U.S. and Australia, authorities said.

Using a network of runners and bookies that spanned both U.S. coasts,  wagers were accepted on major football and baseball games. Kenny Hilinski, an expatriate who lived in Peru, was responsible for gambling operations, prosecutors said. He ran several websites such as betodog.com used by bettors, coordinating payments and directing the distribution of proceeds, according to the indictment.  

To ensure debts were paid, Daniel Portley-Hanks, a private investigator from Los Angeles, was hired to assist in digging up any information on delinquent gamblers and set up threats, prosecutors said.

According to the indictment, Hanson and his associates threatened a customer’s spouse with bodily harm in an attempt to collect an alleged $2.5-million debt. 

The threat included a delivered package containing photos of the customer’s spouse and a printout of biographical information on family members. The accused also sent an email titled “Operation Shovel,” which contained an altered photo of the customer’s family gravestone, implying that they would soon die.

Later, a DVD depicting a masked person beheading two men with a chainsaw and a knife, along with the message, “If you don’t pay us our money, this will happen to you” was sent to the customer, the indictment said.

In November 2014, Giovanni “Tank” Brandolino, who also was arrested, sent five grams of cocaine and 15 capsules of ecstasy to a professional football player in Tennessee, prosecutors said. More than five kilograms of cocaine also was delivered to an undercover agent in August 2015.

To launder proceeds, Luke Fairfield, a certified public accountant in San Diego, created shell corporations and provided information to the organization’s members on ways to structure their bank transactions to avoid detection from law enforcement or arouse suspicion, according to prosecutors.

The operation was uncovered following an investigation into a similar organization, Macho Sports Enterprise. In the Macho Sports case, 19 people were charged in June 2013 with racketeering conspiracy and operating an illegal gambling business.

On Thursday, Hanson’s lawyers disputed the accusations.

“The specific allegations against Mr. Hanson are both surprising and spurious,” said an email from attorneys Russell S. Babcock and Ryan T. Mardock. “Mr. Hanson, a former USC football player, has never engaged in violent or intimidating conduct beyond the football field. Time will show that the many of the individuals who have made these allegations are criminals and their word not credible.”

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

2 p.m.: This article was updated to include comments from Hanson's attorneys. 

This article was originally posted at 1:12 p.m.

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