Oceanside Man Jailed for Bookmaking Ring

Times Staff Writer

A 43-year-old Oceanside man was sentenced in Municipal Court on Tuesday for running a million-dollar bookmaking ring in San Diego and Los Angeles counties that reveals what law enforcement officials call a new level of sophistication in illegal betting operations.

Terry Somenzi, who also maintains a residence in Palm Springs, was sentenced to three years’ probation, three months in jail a $2,500 fine for operating the ring, which took bets over the telephone using a toll-free 800 number. Bettors calling the number used code numbers or letters instead of names when placing bets, law enforcement officials said.

Thomas Stahl, an assistant district attorney in San Diego, said that officials uncovered more than $1.7 million in wagers placed between Sept. 29 and Dec. 15, 1984, at the ring’s headquarters in a Beverly Hills office building. Stahl said that the ring constituted a “major and large” bookmaking operation.


Most of the wagers were on football games and for large dollar amounts, Stahl said.

“These people obviously had money,” Stahl said. “I was surprised to see the frequency of so many high-dollar bets. There were $1,000, $500 and $400 bets placed by people four or five times over a weekend.”

The use of the toll-free 800 number, computers and phone techniques--such as call-forwarding, call-waiting and conference calling--which have been detected by law enforcement agencies in other cities, are evidence that bookies are becoming more sophisticated and harder to catch, since much of the hard evidence in a case is the phone records, officials said.

William Hammond, a vice officer in the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, said that sophisticated technology has made it easier for bookies to avoid detection and has made it more convenient for those wishing to place illegal bets.

“The operator is able to offer the customer a measure of anonymity with codes and computers,” Hammond said. “It is easier to place a call from anywhere and not have to pay for it, and often several people can get on the line at once and place bets.”

Michael Pines, who acted as Somenzi’s attorney, said that his client, who pleaded guilty to the bookmaking charges, had not used especially sophisticated bookmaking techniques.


“I would not agree that using an 800 number shows a degree of sophistication,” Pines said. “That characterization by the prosecution was overemphasized. They thought at one point that computers were used in this case but that was not true.”

Pines also termed the state’s position of prosecuting individual bookmakers “incongruous.”

“In light of the fact that gambling is socially acceptable, and in general condoned throughout the state, I find the state’s position of sending somebody to jail for it inconsistent,” Pines said. “And I don’t think the size of the operation was extraordinary. Probably millions of dollars are spent every year on office football pools.”

Joachim Staler, a detective in the gaming section of the Los Angeles Police Department, said that bookmaking is a year-round problem, but especially evident during the football season.

“Newspapers and television announce the lines on games, there is office betting, we are much more aware of it during this time,” Staler said. “Hopefully we keep abreast and aware of what is going on, including the newest techniques.”

Law enforcement officials in San Diego and Los Angeles in December uncovered a bookmaking ring that was taking in an estimated $400,000 a month in bets. Hammond said that there are several other large bookmaking rings operating in San Diego County in which no arrests have been made yet.