Gambling busts at Iowa State were the result of improper searches, athletes' attorneys contend

Iowa State athletes caught in a gambling sting last year were criminally charged and lost NCAA eligibility as a result of improper searches into their online wagering activities, according to defense attorneys' court filings.

Attorneys for former Iowa State football players Isaiah Lee and Jirehl Brock and wrestler Paniro Johnson wrote in motions for discovery last week that special agents for the state Division of Criminal Investigation had no reasonable cause to track their clients' use of sports wagering apps.

“These investigations were done without any tips of wrongdoing, allegations of wrongdoing, or by requesting a warrant which raises Constitutional issues involving illegal searches and seizures,” Van Plumb, attorney for Lee, wrote in a statement to The Associated Press on Monday. “Motions have been filed with the Court setting forth this information in an attempt to gain access to more discovery surrounding these events.”

The DCI public information officer and defense attorneys Christopher Sandy and Matthew Boles did not respond to AP requests for comment.

Lee, Brock and Johnson were among about two dozen Iowa State and Iowa athletes criminally charged. Those three each face a felony charge of identity theft and aggravated misdemeanor charge of tampering with records. Former Iowa State football player Enyi Uwazurike, who faces the same charges as the other three in Iowa, is now with the Denver Broncos and was suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL games in 2022.

Most of the Iowa and Iowa State athletes who were charged pleaded guilty to underage gambling, paid fines and had identity theft charges dropped. The identity theft charges stemmed from athletes registering accounts on mobile sports betting apps under different names, usually a relative.

The investigation and prosecutions drew national attention because athletes at the two schools were the primary targets and occurred as the NCAA was addressing concerns about nationwide expansion of legal sports wagering.

NCAA rules prohibit wagering by athletes, coaches and staff, with athletes losing varying amounts of eligibility depending on the violation. Lee and Brock were among five starters on the Cyclones football team who lost some or all of their eligibility and are no longer in the program.

Johnson, the Big 12 champion at 149 pounds last year, is on the wrestling roster but has not competed for the Cyclones. He has participated in open events as an unattached wrestler.

Plumb, citing depositions taken two weeks ago, wrote that DCI special agent Brian Sanger conducted warrantless searches on the Iowa campus. Sanger found wagering apps were opened in freshman and sophomore dormitories, but he could not determine whether they were used to make wagers. Sanger asked his superiors for permission to expand the search and was told no, according to the filings.

Sanger then placed a geofence around Iowa and Iowa State athletic facilities that have restricted access and again found evidence of open wagering apps. He requested subpoenas for account information of hundreds of individuals without reasonable cause, Plumb wrote, and the result was indictments against Iowa athletes. Plumb contends their privacy had been invaded.

In his Jan. 19 deposition, Sanger said that while he didn't recall why he conducted warrantless searches, he was concerned about possible match fixing and people infiltrating Iowa's athletic teams to gain insider information.

Sandy, Johnson's attorney, cited the deposition of DCI special agent Mark Ludwick, who said the search of athletes was illegal and that he was misled by other agents about the purpose of the investigation. He said special agent Troy Nelson had said the nature of the investigation was administrative with the targets being FanDuel, Draft Kings and other online gaming operators.

According to the filing, Ludwick reassured Lee the focus was on the gaming operators and no criminal consequence would come from what was said. Lee made statements regarding his online gaming activities; Ludwick said when he reported his interview to Nelson he was congratulated “for obtaining a confession.”

Ludwick, who told his superiors he would no longer participate and requested reassignment, said there was no geofence warrant and there was no reasonable suspicion to conduct the search. His deposition also was cited in a motion filed by Boles, Brock’s attorney.


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