- Other alleged ringleader is detained; 2 of the 18 charged are at large, spokesman says
- Set up in Panama and later moved to Peru, Macho Sports had customers in U.S.
- They could bet on sports events through bookies, by phone and through Internet sites
- Macho Sports' employees used "intimidation, threats and violence," authorities say
Federal authorities say they've cracked an international gambling ring calling itself Macho Sports, whose customers would place bets with bookies, by phone and online and -- if they lost -- risked paying a painful price.
Authorities allege in the indictment, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern California, that the illicit gambling company curried a "violent reputation" for its use of "intimidation, threats and violence."
In addition to the Peru-headquartered organization itself, 18 individuals face racketeering and illegal gambling charges, states the indictment. The former is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, while the latter charge carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Fifteen of those individuals were arrested earlier Wednesday in Southern California; Oslo, Norway; and Lima, Peru, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Southern California said in a press release.
Authorities took Jan Harald Portocarrero, one of the alleged ringleaders, into custody Wednesday night, said U.S. Attorney's office spokesman Andrew Schopler. At that time, two other people -- Young Hee Koh and Dunzmy June Nguyen -- remained at large, Schopler said.
"Criminal enterprises like 'Macho Sports' and their U.S. based 'bookmakers' prey on gambling addictions of their betting customers, wreaking havoc on people's lives and the lives of family members," Daphne Hearn, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Diego office, said in a press release.
Brothers Jan Harald Portocarrero and Erik Portocarrero, originally from California, set up Macho Sports International in Panama in 2002, according to Panamanian public documents cited in U.S. authorities' probable cause statement. The company moved its headquarters six years later to Peru, where the Portocarreros had family, though its customers were in California and elsewhere.
Over the past decade, customers were invited to place bets on sporting events -- from NFL games to mixed-martial arts fights -- either through a system of bookies, by calling a toll-free phone number or through personal accounts set up on two Internet sites.
Macho Sports employed phone operators, bookies, "sub-bookies," runners and collectors to deliver winnings and collect debts from customers, U.S. authorities explained.
The probable cause statement features excerpts of several phone wiretaps. In one, a bookie openly worries that he might get arrested, to which Jan Harald Portocarrero replies, "It's not that easy." The bookie responds, "Yeah, but you're 8,000 miles away. You're untouchable."
People involved in Macho Sports spoke about gambling-debt collectors' sometimes violent tactics. Jan Harald Portocarrero, for instance, referred to one who he said "kidnaps people, strikes them with a gun, and he's walking the streets."
The federal complaint claims that proceeds were laundered "by inducing customers to pay their gambling losses to various entities that appeared to be unrelated to Macho Sports, such as check-cashing businesses.