If they were early enough, callers to (213) 261-9472 on Sunday placed illegal sports bets with three clerks, employed by one of the county’s largest bookmaking rings, in an East Los Angeles office with no name on the door.
But shortly before 10 a.m., minutes before the start of professional football games on the East Coast, the phones were being answered by sheriff’s deputies who diligently noted code numbers, passwords and wager amounts. The clerks sat on the sidelines, under arrest.
The scene was repeated at three other sites in Diamond Bar, Encino and Marina del Rey as the sheriff’s vice bureau raided bookmaking sites run by three networks that together control an estimated 45% to 50% of the county’s illegal gambling, authorities said.
Eight clerks were arrested and about $1.25 million worth of wagers--one day’s take--were disrupted, said Lt. David Kading of the vice bureau.
It is the height of the bookie season--which, not coincidentally, parallels the pro football season, the biggest lure for sports gamblers.
In October, law enforcement officers in three Southern California counties dismantled a $1-million-a-week operation. In November, a separate series of arrests broke up a $2-million-a-week ring.
Sunday’s raids dismantled business at offices that took in about $3.5 million a week, but deputies did not lodge fatal blows against the organizations that run them.
On Nov. 3, deputies arrested nine others at five other sites run by the same groups, stopping $1 million in bets. The three networks have about 10 sites apiece, Kading said, and probably bring in a total of $15 to $20 million a week. He would not provide details about the suspected leaders or further characterize the organizations because the investigation is continuing.
The raids pointed up the newly decentralized nature of bookmaking, a development helped along by telephone technology such as call-forwarding and toll-free 800 numbers.
“In the old days--the old days being not so long ago--there would be one room, with 20 or 30 clerks and a switchboard that looked like a police phone room,” Kading said. “This way, they don’t lose everything if one location is shut down.”
Indeed, at four other places searched by deputies Sunday, phones were on call-forward and authorities could not determine where wagers were actually being recorded. Warrants could not be served and the action apparently proceeded--somewhere.
In East Los Angeles alone, Kading said, $500,000 in bets would have been placed on Sunday had business not been interrupted.
When deputies broke in the door of a room on the second floor of a Whittier Boulevard medical building, they surprised two women and a man sitting around four folding tables that formed a rectangle. Each clerk had a four-line phone, wager forms, odds sheets and an adding machine.
A television was tuned to the station that would carry the Los Angeles Rams vs. the Cleveland Browns. The clerks were set to pass a pleasant morning, with bottles of soda, cups of carry-out coffee, a paperback novel and a box of crayons littering the table tops.
“We brought tamales. Can we eat them?” joked Ventura Aguayo, 49, of Los Angeles. Like her colleagues, Louise Marie Lopez, 38, of West Covina and Juan Jorge Menriquez, 43, of Los Angeles, she was booked on suspicion of felony bookmaking.
Lopez said the clerks had operated out of the room “for just a few months.” The target organizations routinely shut down locations and open new ones, Kading said.
Aguayo’s name provided the office password. “Aguayo Appraisal,” the clerks said when they answered the phone.
The deputies said the same thing when they sat down as replacements to gather evidence. In the space of 15 minutes, they took several hundred calls from the likes of “449 Joe” and “Tracy for Augie.” The bets ranged from $50 to $1,000.
Meanwhile, in a Marina del Rey apartment, Earl Balos, 70, was arrested. At another apartment in Encino, Douglas Dimock, 41, William Anderson, 33, and Richard Anderson, 41, were taken into custody. Authorities also found a false-top desk there where bookmaking paraphernalia could be secreted. In a Diamond Bar house, Rex Tidd, 71, was arrested.