SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Eighteen members of what prosecutors called a violent gambling ring located mainly in California and Peru were charged with operating an illegal Internet and telephone wagering business called "Macho Sports," according to a federal indictment unsealed in San Diego Wednesday.
According to the indictment, participants in the scheme are accused of taking millions of dollars in illegal sports wagers over the last decade in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas. Fourteen of the defendants were arrested Wednesday in a series of FBI raids in both counties.
Charges include racketeering conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs and running an illegal gambling business.
"This case highlights the connection between illegal Internet gambling operations and the violence associated with this type of racketeering activity," FBI Special Agent in Charge Daphne Hearn said. "Criminal enterprises like Macho Sports and their U.S.-based 'bookmakers' prey on the gambling addictions of their betting customers, wreaking havoc on people's lives and the lives of family members."
In addition to the arrests made Wednesday in Southern California, foreign law enforcement counterparts arrested defendant Erik Portocarrero in Oslo, Norway.
FBI agents also executed warrants seeking the forfeiture of at least $5 million in property associated with Macho Sports, including a La Jolla property obtained by conspirators with proceeds from the illegal operation, authorities said.
The FBI investigation, which started in 2011, included wiretaps and undercover agents.
According to the indictment, Jan Harald Portocarrero, 40, and Erik Portocarrero, 42, ran Macho Sports from Lima, Peru, using the Internet and toll-free telephone lines to accept bets from customers in California.
The organization ensured the prompt payment of gambling debts through the use of intimidation, threats and violence, as well as fostering a violent reputation regarding its treatment of delinquent customers, according to the indictment.
Although originally from California, the Portocarrero brothers set up Macho Sports first in Panama and later in Peru after suffering previous gambling arrests or convictions in the United States, according to the indictment.
In addition to its telephone and Internet operations, Macho Sports used teams of bookies -- such as Amir Mokayef, operating primarily in San Diego, and Joseph Barrios, operating mainly in Los Angeles -- who were responsible for recruiting customers, paying off winning bets and collecting on losing bets, the indictment stated.