I was assigned to the then-newly formed gambling unit. This unit was to be involved in pursuing bookmakers and busting bolita houses. Bolita was and probably still is one of the popular numbers betting system. Numbers are drawn on a daily basis out of a bag full of numbered ping-pong balls. It’s similar to the legalized Lotto games. The assignments were worked in whatever clothing or disguise techniques deemed necessary to pull off the investigation.

Two of my most memorable undercover operations were the takedown of an established liquor lounge involved in big time gambling that had connections to a mafia crime family and a major numbers racket bolita organization that netted its’ group thousands of dollars a day.

The bar owner ran bookmaking on all major sporting events and distributed football parlay cards. To work my way into his trust I borrowed a car dealership mechanics uniform from my neighbor and began patronizing the bar every evening. I rubbed grease from under the hood of my unmarked car on my arms and uniform to look authentic. After about two weeks I was able to gain their trust and started playing the football parlay cards. I told the owner that my coworkers back at the car dealership would love to have access to and play the cards.

He made me the normal deal for card runners, I could keep 10% of everything I collected. After getting cards every week and having them all filled out and returned, I gained more evidence by placing bets on horses and ball games. In about 3 months of heavy betting, I secured an arrest warrant for him and a search warrant for his premises.

The subsequent search turned up all types of betting receipts and cash. He ended up with a jail sentence and lost his liquor license. I don’t imagine the crime bosses liked the outcome. I really enjoyed the ability to drink on the job and the county picking up the tab. By the way, other officers played the parlay cards and none of us were able to beat the point spread and collect on any of the cards.

Another masquerade I pulled off was when I got wind of a bolita operation that employed runners who travelled to worksites that employed large amounts of blue-collar workers. One site was a hotel commissary that prepared food for its’ restaurants. I walked into the commissary and disguised myself as a worker. No one questioned me as I took a white freezer coat off a hook and put it on. I figured the runner showed up during a coffee break. I spent time in the men’s room waiting for the break.

Like clockwork the numbers seller arrived at break time and the employees wanting to play the numbers formed a long line. The seller walked the line writing down the player’s picks for the nightly drawing and giving them a carbon receipt. I stood in line and bought my numbers. When the seller left I hung the coat back up and followed him on his rounds of other business stops. Photographing him at his daily stops I eventually tracked him to the counting house. This is where the evening numbers are actually drawn out of a bag of numbered ping-pong balls. I secured a warrant for the search of the property that ended in shutting down a large numbers operation that netted thousands of dollars a day in profits for organized crime figures.

One interesting investigation was conducted at the several horse race tracks in and around the area. Bookmakers would actually operate at the tracks saving customers from standing in lines at the ticket windows. They always dressed in a fashion to make themselves stand out to the track visitors.

One guy wore a fur coat in warm weather. After placing a few bets with him he was actually arrested on the spot. This type of activity keeps money from going through the betting windows where the money is taxed by the state.

Another bookmaker case involved a suspect that operated out of an apartment somewhere in Miami. He was alleged to be a big time bookie and no one could locate his actual place of business. The phone company would not divulge to authorities any locations of multiple banks of telephones that are needed to operate a large bookmaking operation. One morning I brought a lawn mower from home and was mowing the grass of an empty home for sale three houses down from where the bookie lived. Heading out to work that morning he drove by very slowly giving me the evil eye. I ignored him until he left the area and I radioed his route to three other undercover units that eventually followed him to his final destination.

We rented an empty apartment across the way from his and started photographing and logging his coming and going. We collected trash receipts from his garbage can when he placed it out at the curb. Some bookies use water paper that dissolves in a bucket of water if raided but he felt so secure he just tossed his out. Serving a search warrant after a couple weeks of the stake out, he was arrested and we found a bank of 8 phones used in his operation. His receipts indicated that his operation alone was grossing some $5000 a day.

Undercover work was a thrill for me. Every group I was able to penetrate and make arrests was very gratifying.

— BD, GA

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