In a gambling probe, prosecutors drop charges against former Iowa State athletes

Prosecutors have decided to dismiss the contentious gambling charges against four ex-Iowa State University student athletes. This move comes in response to concerns raised about the investigators’ possible misuse of software designed to monitor the usage of betting applications.

Assistant Story County attorney Benjamin Matchan filed a motion on Friday, seeking the dismissal of charges against Eyioma Uwazurike, Jirehl Brock, Paniro Johnson, and Isaiah Lee. Matchan stated that his office does not intend to proceed with the prosecution after the defendants’ attorneys revealed an email from GeoComply, the software maker, to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. In the email, GeoComply accused the Division of Criminal Investigation of improper usage of their software.

In 2022, GeoComply granted the DCI (Division of Criminal Investigation) access to its program, Kibana. This allowed agents to view anonymized data on the locations where users of popular sportsbooks, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, placed their bets. Defense attorneys revealed that DCI Special Agent Brian Sanger utilized this software without a warrant to monitor cellphone bets made at athletic buildings in Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. Consequently, these actions resulted in charges being filed against the players involved.

Matchan reached out to GeoComply this week to inquire about their decision to remove the software from the DCI. However, he is yet to receive a response. The Des Moines Register also tried to obtain comments from both the DCI and GeoComply via email earlier this week, but received no response. The attorneys attached the letter as part of a motion to suppress the evidence gathered by Sanger using Kibana.

The software’s main purpose is to guarantee that bets are placed in jurisdictions where sports gambling is legal, rather than serving as an investigative tool.

In his recent motion filed on Friday, Matchan stated that the State no longer deems it necessary to pursue further prosecution in this particular matter, as it does not serve the interests of justice.

Brock, a former Iowa State running back, and Lee, who played defensive line, are both notable athletes from the school. Johnson, on the other hand, is a former Iowa State wrestler who has been actively participating in individual competitions this season. Uwazurike, who played defensive end for the school, was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

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Lawyer for ex-ISU player, now with Denver Broncos, planned to cross-examine DCI agent

The prosecutor has made his decision just four days before the scheduled hearing on the motion to suppress evidence in the cases at the Story County Courthouse. According to the defense attorneys, the DCI agents not only conducted a warrantless search for online gambling activity but also deceived the athletes about their status as targets in a criminal investigation, resulting in incriminating statements being obtained from them.

In a recent court filing by Johnson’s attorney on January 23, it was revealed that one of the agents involved in the case, Mark Ludwick, testified during a deposition. Ludwick admitted that he had given assurances to a player he interviewed, guaranteeing that there would be no prosecution. He based this assurance on the representations made by his supervisor. However, to Ludwick’s surprise, his supervisor later praised him for obtaining a confession from the same player. This contradiction raises questions about the integrity of the investigation process.

Attorney Van Plumb, who represents Lee and Uwazurike, had intended to question Sanger, the lead investigator, during the upcoming hearing. In earlier statements, Sanger admitted during a deposition in January that he had not obtained a warrant before utilizing GeoComply’s software to verify if individuals were placing online bets from within Iowa State or Iowa athletics buildings.

Plumb received a call from Matchan just an hour after he had filed subpoenas on Friday in relation to the hearing.

“They decided against proceeding with a motion to suppress hearing involving all the individuals called to testify,” he explained.

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Defense attorneys, in addition to filing a motion to suppress, asserted their demand for prosecutors to disclose Sanger’s Kibana search history.

DCI says evidence obtained in ‘constitutionally permissible manner’

The lawyers representing the players have consistently maintained that the investigation conducted by the DCI agents went against GeoComply’s terms of service. They have argued that the purpose of the software developed by the company was to ensure that sportsbooks like FanDuel and DraftKings adhered to state gambling regulations.

In their motion on Tuesday, the attorneys presented compelling evidence to support their argument. They shared an email dated January 26th from Gabrielle Angle, the Government Relations Director at GeoComply, with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. In the email, Angle stated that GeoComply would disable the DCI’s access to the software due to concerns that the DCI had exceeded its authorized access and use privileges for Kibana.

The DCI has previously defended its investigation, stating in a statement on January 31 that agents sought legal counsel to ensure their approach was lawful before proceeding with the investigation.

“The statement asserts that the evidence was obtained in a manner that adheres to constitutional guidelines.”

The lawyer who provided advice to the DCI remains unidentified. However, on January 23, Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird stated that it was not her office that provided the advice. She also mentioned that she was not concerned about whether the DCI acted under proper authority in this matter.

She stated that the cases were not in her office. Furthermore, she clarified that the investigation was carried out by the Iowa Department of Public Safety, so they would be the appropriate entity to address any inquiries regarding the matter.

Defense attorneys have claimed that GeoComply’s software provided evidence of sportsbook account numbers being used within the athletics buildings. This information led investigators to identify the individuals associated with those accounts.

According to the information provided, prosecutors have pressed charges against certain defendants for engaging in underage gambling, allegedly placing bets. Additionally, the defendants have been accused of committing identity theft, a felony, by using FanDuel and DraftKings accounts registered under their parents’ or friends’ names.

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The DCI dropped charges against several defendants on Friday.

    • Brock of placing about 1,300 bets for about $12,000.
    • Johnson of placing about 1,300 bets for about $46,000.
    • Lee of placing 115 bets for $885.
    • Uwazurike of placing 801 bets for about $21,400.

According to the DCI, Brock has been accused of betting on two Iowa State games that he played in, while Lee has been accused of placing bets on 12 games in which he was involved. Additionally, Uwazurike has been accused of betting on two Iowa State games and five Denver Broncos games during his time as a member of those teams.

According to the Des Moines Register, the NFL has confirmed that Uwazurike is still suspended.

According to DCI Assistant Director David Jobes, the investigation resulted in criminal charges against 24 athletes and student managers from Iowa State and Iowa. Out of these individuals, 16 have pleaded guilty to underage gambling as of January 23rd. Additionally, one case has been referred to juvenile court, where proceedings remain private.

In September, prosecutors made the decision to dismiss charges against DeShawn Hanika, a former Iowa State tight end. This was due to their failure to meet the deadline for presenting an indictment to the defendant.

The case against Evan Schuster, a student manager for the University of Iowa men’s basketball team, is still pending. Unfortunately, his attorney, Leon Spies, did not respond to a call or email requesting a comment on Friday.

The impact of dropping charges in the Iowa State cases on the ones against University of Iowa players remains uncertain at this time.

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