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Iowa agents hoped to change betting laws with college gambling investigation, emails show

State investigators used a probe into betting amongst Iowa college athletes to advance their ambitions for a unit policing sports activities wagering, attorneys for the gamers alleged Thursday.

In an announcement, attorneys Matt Boles and Van Plumb launched excerpts from a sequence of inner Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation emails that exposed agents’ hopes that politicians would push for stricter sports activities betting laws within the wake of the investigation. Another e-mail excerpt confirmed that another agents have been frightened that the investigation into betting amongst University of Iowa and Iowa State University athletes was unlawful.

“The investigation seems to have been started to justify the formation of a new unit within the DCI,” Boles and Plumb mentioned within the assertion, alluding to a small crew that started investigating on-line sports activities betting in 2021.

The attorneys’ assertion follows an April 26 lawsuit they filed in opposition to the state, the DCI, the Iowa Department of Public Safety and several other regulation enforcement officers. Representing 26 present and former college athletes, the attorneys allege that investigators violated their purchasers’ civil rights through the use of software program to verify whether or not individuals betting apps have been getting used inside college athletics buildings.

A DCI spokesperson didn’t instantly return an e-mail in search of remark Thursday night. Nor did a spokesperson for Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird, whose workplaces is defending the state officers within the lawsuit.

Iowa DCI agents believed case may lead to new laws

DCI Special Agent Brian Sanger started the investigation in December 2022, quickly after he and different members of the sports activities wagering unit acquired coaching on how to examine potential sport betting fraud with software program from GeoComply. The Canadian firm contracts with on-line sportsbooks to observe the places of registered betters for compliance with state laws.

More: ‘Fox watching the henhouse’: Is Iowa’s sports betting law too weak to prevent abuse?

According to inner emails beforehand revealed by the Register, GeoComply officers defined to Sanger how state officers ought to write rules that may enable the corporate to present location knowledge to regulation enforcement with no warrant. After the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission adopted these instructors and permitted new rules, GeoComply officers educated DCI agents on how to use their software program, referred to as Kibana.

The software program reveals “pins” on a map, revealing the place on-line bettors are inserting wagers. The map is anonymized, which means the software program doesn’t show the identify of the person for every pin.

A slide from a GeoComply presentation shows how its software works to detect online betting app use.A slide from a GeoComply presentation shows how its software works to detect online betting app use.

A slide from a GeoComply presentation reveals how its software program works to detect on-line betting app use.

After a GeoComply worker traveled to Des Moines in late November 2022 to show agents how to use the software program, Sanger discovered betting exercise contained in the Iowa and Iowa State athletic buildings. The DCI subpoenaed sports activities books for the account info behind the pins inside these buildings, revealing that some Iowa and Iowa State athletes underneath age of 21 place bets illegally or used accounts registered to dad and mom or buddies.

In a Jan. 19, 2023, e-mail to Troy Nelson, the DCI’s particular agent answerable for the sports activities wagering unit, Sanger wrote that the investigation could possibly be a “springboard” to a brand new state coverage. He mentioned the gaming fee, which regulates sports activities books, might require these betting firms to share details about each account registered in Iowa.

Sanger mentioned the gaming fee might require the sportsbooks to add an Excel spreadsheet each week that listed account numbers, person names, addresses, emails and cellphone numbers for each account energetic in Iowa.

“We can ensure no college coaches, athletes, officials, athletic trainers, individuals close/inside a college sports program, along with statewide barred patrons don’t have Iowa sports wagering accounts,” Sanger wrote.

He added: “It would be nice to include more accounts data but I believe this limited list would have a better shot of getting approved.”

DCI particular agent: ‘If they get suspended or get a scholarship taken away, so be it’

Two weeks later, on Feb. 2, 2023, DCI Special Agent Christopher Adkins informed Sanger and Nelson that he additionally was eager about the broader potential for the sports activities betting investigation. He believed this might show higher-ranking regulation enforcement officers, in addition to politicians, why the DCI’s sports activities betting crew was necessary.

“This is one of those things that would bring attention to our unit, not only in the public’s eyes, but also as far as the commissioner and even possibly the legislatures,” Adkins wrote.

He added that state laws do not criminalize team personnel from betting on their own games. He suggested the investigation could motivate a bill to do so in the Legislature.

More: Iowa lawmakers halt attempt to tighten sports betting rules after college gambling scandal

“As far as the coaches, players, and managers are concerned, we don’t necessarily have a crime on the books in Iowa,” he wrote, “but I think it would be a good idea to report them to the University, the Big Ten, and the NCAA. If they get suspended or get a scholarship taken away, so be it.”

He added: “If we pursue this and it hits the media, which it would, and people start asking why nothing criminal was done ― we can use that platform to hopefully push legislators for code changes moving forward.”

The investigation has not led the Legislature to criminalize sports betting among team personnel. But it did lead to 25 criminal charges in Story County, home of ISU, and Johnston County, home of the University of Iowa, for underage gambling and identity theft.

Iowa State quarterback Hunter Dekkers spoke with reporters after the April spring game. Tuesday, he was accused of betting on Cyclones football.Iowa State quarterback Hunter Dekkers spoke with reporters after the April spring game. Tuesday, he was accused of betting on Cyclones football.

Iowa State quarterback Hunter Dekkers spoke with reporters after the April spring game. Tuesday, he was accused of betting on Cyclones football.

Nineteen defendants pleaded guilty to underage gambling, paying $645 fines. The Story County Attorney’s Office dismissed charges against six defendants, five of them because GeoComply cut off the DCI’s access to the company’s software in the wake of the betting scandal.

A 26th student was from a community college.

Athletes’ attorneys: DCI agents were worried about investigation’s legality

On March 2, 2023, DCI Special Agent Christ Swigart suggested in an email to Nelson that investigators needed a warrant to look up betting activity on GeoComply’s software ― something Sanger had not done a couple months earlier.

Recapping a phone conversation with GeoComply, Swigart wrote that other states required subpoeans or search warrants for “locations geofenced.”

Previously: Iowa lawmakers fret about privacy rights after allegations against sports betting probe

“It’s going to be a controversial issue for us to be able articulate what leads an investigator to search specific locations for accounts based on the absence of a complaint or lead. Fourth amendment issues are going to be challenged when we are arbitrarily picking locations we want to randomly locate account information from,” he said, referring to the constitutional amendment that protects citizens from illegal searches by the government.

Swigart also asked Nelson whether investigators needed a policy “so we can head off any constitutional issues that could perpetuate case law within our unit.”

“Yeah I’ll think through that,” Nelson responded.

Three weeks later, DCI Assistant Director Dave Jobes emailed Catherine Lucas, Iowa Department of Public Safety general counsel, in preparation for a meeting between the two to discuss GeoComply. In the email ― which Nelson helped compose ― Jobes explained what GeoComply was and how DCI agents used the company’s software.

An Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation badge.An Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation badge.

An Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation badge.

“Some agents are expressing concern related to the initial use of the geolocation data and the potential need to identify the source of the data in subsequent court proceedings,” Jobes wrote to Lucas on March 24, 2023.

The email chain, which the players’ attorneys and the Des Moines Register received through records requests, does not show what Lucas concluded about the use of GeoComply.

However, in a statement in January of this year, DPS Commissioner Stephan Bayens said, “Prior to using the tools provided, the Department of Public Safety conferred with legal counsel to ensure lawful access to and use of the technology.”

Internal emails previously revealed by the Register also show that Iowa Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Peterzalek sat in on an August 2022 conference call among gaming commission and GeoComply employees to discuss the DCI potentially using the company’s software.

Law professor: Warrant not required

Orin Kerr, a University of California, Berkley, law professor and Fourth Amendment expert, previously told the Register that the DCI’s actions did not appear to constitute an illegal search. Bettors agreed to share their locations with sports books, which agreed to share the data with GeoComply.

In Wednesday’s statement, the players’ attorneys also point to a September 2022 email from GeoComply General Counsel Maninder Malli to DCI Special Agent Heather Duenow. In the exchange, which occurred three months before Sanger launched his investigation, Malli explained the company’s legal interpretation about the use of location data.

More: Iowa investigators in student sports betting probe defend investigation tactics

“From a privacy perspective, the player/end user is the owner of the geolocation data when it’s associated with their accounts and devices,” he wrote.

But in a second part of the email ― which the players’ attorneys did not include in their statement ― Malli added that the law changes when GeoComply provides anonymized information about the locations of various bets, as it would do with the DCI.

“When the data is anonymized or depersonalized by GeoComply,” he wrote, “… GeoComply would own this type of data.”

Tyler Jett is an investigative reporter for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at [email protected], 515-284-8215, or on X at @LetsJett. He additionally accepts encrypted messages at [email protected].

This article initially appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa agents hoped to change betting laws with college gambling cases

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