Ex-USC football player pleads guilty to drug trafficking, gambling scheme
A former USC football player has pleaded guilty to running an international criminal empire that included an offshore gambling operation and a drug ring that sold performance-enhancing substances to professional athletes — in addition to trafficking hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and Ecstasy.
Owen Hanson, 34, faces at least 20 years in prison when sentenced on the two charges: racketeering conspiracy and drug-trafficking conspiracy. He has agreed to forfeit $5 million and all other property, likely worth millions of dollars, paid for with illegal profits.
Hanson entered his plea Tuesday. However, the plea may be short-lived.
Hanson, who has been corresponding from jail with VICE Sports, wrote an email Wednesday saying he had been a victim of a “bait-and-switch” and that he wanted to withdraw the plea.
“The new plea they made me sign in court yesterday will not stand, they added a mandatory minimum I never agreed to — and was pressured to sign it without reviewing with my family,” Hanson wrote, according to VICE Sports. “It was a travesty of justice, protocol and trust.”
Hanson was arrested at Carlsbad’s Park Hyatt Aviara Golf Club in September 2015 on a charge of coordinating a delivery of cocaine and meth. The San Diego prosecution by the U.S.attorney’s office ballooned soon after with charges against 22 people accused of participating in Hanson’s global gambling and drug operations.
Hanson, who grew up in Redondo Beach, played football for USC as a walk-on tight end in 2004 and became a real estate developer. He later leveraged his relationships with athletes and turned his business acumen toward illegal markets.
In the guilty plea, Hanson admitted to founding and overseeing ODOG Enterprises, a gambling operation based in Peru and Central America, with clients throughout the U.S. Hanson hired bookies, runners and enforcers to place bets, collect losses and, if necessary, use violence against those who wouldn’t pay up, according to court documents.
He also admitted to building a drug-trafficking network that imported, exported and distributed drugs at wholesale and retail value throughout the U.S. and Australia.
The plea did not provide further details about Hanson’s distribution of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone to professional athletes. But it provided a glimpse at the kind of cash Hanson’s drug business was earning — profits that needed to be laundered.
He admitted having a co-conspirator transfer $50,000 in drug proceeds to a person in New Jersey so the cash could go to California. Hanson also used people in Australia to try to get drug profits — $200,000 in U.S. currency and $250,000 in Australian currency — to the U.S. in July 2015.
Hanson also admitted to his involvement with professional gambler Robert “R.J.” Cipriani — also known as “Robin Hood 702,” his alter ego who gives his casino winnings to the needy.
In 2011, Hanson gave Cipriani $1.5 million in drug-trafficking proceeds to gamble with in a Sydney casino, and had Cipriani — who said he didn’t realize the money was dirty — take the winnings to Las Vegas in the form of a casino check.
When Hanson tried to get him to do it again with $2.5 million, Cipriani said he became suspicious and decided to intentionally lose the money at the tables.
Before Cipriani left Australia the second time, he called in a tip that someone had a gun in a Sydney hotel room linked to Hanson. Police didn’t find a gun but found Hanson’s associates with $702,000 in a suitcase. The money was said to belong to Hanson, with various stories as to how it was being used — from payment for a ZZ Top tour to an investment in a weight-loss business. Australian authorities began investigating, ultimately leading to eight arrests there.
Back in California, Hanson embarked on a campaign to threaten Cipriani and his wife — including sending a DVD of beheadings and having a private investigator splash red paint on the gambler’s mother’s gravestone — in order to recover the losses, prosecutors said.
The FBI in San Diego began investigating Hanson as an associate of another Peru-based gambling operation called Macho Sports. Hanson was not among those indicted in that investigation, but he was on the FBI’s radar. Around the same time, Cipriani approached the San Diego FBI office and shared his experiences with Hanson, and the investigation grew into a much larger case involving confidential sources and an undercover agent.
Of the 22 people charged in San Diego, 18 have pleaded guilty, including three others on Tuesday. Four defendants are headed to trial on Feb. 14.
Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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