TORONTO — The man accused of running Internet services for a $103-million illegal sports betting ring that police say was linked to the Mafia and the Hells Angels pleaded guilty Monday.
Gordon Baird, 59, admitted he was the administrator of the Platinum Sports Book, a sophisticated betting operation in Ontario that set up its computer servers in Costa Rica.
The police probe of Platinum was first revealed in spectacular fashion when officers raided a lavish Super Bowl party north of Toronto in 2013, a catered event with an open bar for 2,700 guests who vied for expensive door prizes including a motorcycle and Sea-Doo.
It was a party thrown annually by Platinum as a customer appreciation event. Court heard it cost more than $100,000 to run.
The cost, however, was a drop in the bucket of what money organizers were bringing in, court heard.
With computer servers in Costa Rica, toll-free phone lines, a smart-phone app for gamblers to bet on all major sporting events, the operation was technologically savvy, sophisticated and lucrative.
Based on police wiretaps, it is estimated that Platinum employed hundreds of bookies servicing thousands of clients within the Toronto area. The bookies signed up their own clients, collected their debts and paid out their winnings on a weekly basis. The money flowed up the pyramid, court heard, with the top acting as “the bank.”
This was an extremely well-organized, professional criminal organization making millions of dollars
A financial audit of seized betting records show that between 2009 and 2013 Platinum grossed more than $103 million. Police seized $4.6 million in cash during its probe.
In 2012, $1.3 million in cash was found in the backpack of Erwin Speckert as he boarded a bus from Winnipeg to Vancouver. The source of the money was never revealed, but Monday’s court proceedings confirmed it was Platinum money being couriered west. Speckert was sentenced last year to three years for money laundering.
“The operation is best viewed as a highly sophisticated and organized pyramid-type structure. The pyramid structure involved a number of ‘cells’ consisting of bookies and their sub-agents signing up bettors/clients,” says an agreed statement of facts in Baird’s case.
“These cells in turn are all connected to the top of the pyramid structure by those managing the organization.”
The top — which Baird was not a part of — was not discussed in his proceeding. At the time of arrests, the RCMP said Platinum Sports Book was linked to members of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and the Mafia.
The day after the police Super Bowl raid and the seizing of Platinum’s websites, almost identical websites were already back up, with the domain name switching from a .com address to a .tk address — signifying registration in Tokelau, three tiny coral atolls in the South Pacific.
Police heard of the change on the wiretaps.
“Gordie in Costa Rica” informed colleagues of the new address, court heard. Police confirmed that Baird had registered the websites.
Judge John McMahon accepted Baird’s guilty plea to a charge of bookmaking as participation in a criminal organization.
Asked by McMahon if he was “pressured” by anyone — including co-accused, family or police — into taking the plea, he answered, “No, sir.”
Because Baird had no criminal record and pleaded guilty before trial, McMahon accepted a joint submission for an 18-month conditional sentence (to be served in Baird’s home) and a $400,000 fine. Baird handed over a cashier’s cheque for $50,000 and was given a year to pay the remainder.
If he defaults, McMahon warned him, he would be sentenced to three years in prison.
“He was not a controlling mind of the criminal organization but through his actions he contributed to the criminal organization,” McMahon said.
“This was an extremely well-organized, professional criminal organization making millions of dollars,” said McMahon. “It could not have functioned without his technical expertise.”
In another courtroom in the same Toronto courthouse, two co-accused in the case — Rob Barletta and Andrew Bielli, both linked to the Hells Angels with Barletta named as a former president of the London, Ont., chapter — pleaded not guilty to charges, including bookmaking for the benefit of a criminal organization and possession of the proceeds of crime.
Immediately after his case adjourned, Barletta walked over to Baird’s proceedings to watch the plea.
Barletta, Bielli and several other accused still face trial.