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Coaches arrested over gambling on peewee football in Fla.

By Julie K. Brown and Manny Navarro, The Miami Herald –

MIAMI — Like any other bookmaking joint, the storefront had backroom wagering windows, published point spreads and catered to gamblers flashing wads of bills. But this was Lauderhill, Fla., not Las Vegas. And the money was riding on kids not yet old enough to shave.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office raided the Red Carpet Kutz barber shop this week and charged the proprietor, Brandon D. Bivins, 36, with felony bookmaking and operating a gambling house.

Bivins is the president and coach of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes, part of the South Florida Youth Football League.

Also arrested: several fellow coaches and team officials from the league. It was the culmination of an 18-month investigation dubbed Operation Dirty Play.

According to arrest affidavits, Bivins’ barber shop on Northwest 38th Avenue and his separate sports apparel store, Showtime Sports on Northwest 34th Terrace in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., served as fronts for the bookmaking operation, which also took in bets on the NFL, major league baseball and other big-time sporting events.

But it is the gambling on very young kids, first reported in an ESPN “Outside the Lines” investigation aired in May 2011, that is raising eyebrows.

The South Florida Football League has various levels of competition for players, ranging from as big as 155 pounds to as little as 75.

Although relatively new, the league serves about 6,000 kids spread among 22 clubs covering three counties.

Players who have moved on from the league to success at the next level include Stacy Coley, the star receiver at Oakland Park Northeast High School who is considered the ninth best player in the country at his position by; and Chris Lammons, Plantation High’s starting quarterback.

For a man overseeing a football club for children, Bivins had an unusual resume. His lengthy criminal record includes arrests for possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana, aggravated battery, carrying a concealed weapon and possession of stolen property.

Some of his fellow coaches also have criminal records, according to BSO, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which conducted the investigation in conjunction with the Lauderhill and Fort Lauderdale police departments, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Marshals Service.

The ESPN documentary highlighted several coaches and football league officials actively placing wagers on peewee football games in Broward County, specifically in Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

Soon after it aired, BSO’s money laundering task force launched its investigation, using information received from a confidential informant who led them to Bivins, considered the mastermind. Bivins and other associates would network via their cell phones to arrange and place bets on games, the warrant said.

Bivins’ associates owned the businesses, but it was Bivins, authorities said, who ran the illicit activities from a secret room in the rear of the barber shop.

To bolster their case, authorities maintained a lengthy surveillance of the two businesses, supported by paperwork sifted from Bivins’ trash. On Aug. 22, a “trash pull” conducted at his Delray Beach, Fla., home uncovered betting receipts titled “West Palm Beach Fantasy League,” along with wager ID numbers, wager dates, bet amounts, win payouts, game selections and picks placed. The receipts were computer-generated from the barbershop, authorities said.

Investigators picked through Bivins’ trash several more times, finding more incriminating documents.

A coach with the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes who was not arrested said it is “business as usual” with the league despite Tuesday’s busts.

“We got a playoff game to play,” said the coach, known as Twan. “That’s all we’re focused on.”

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