Just as Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar hit a home run off Phillies pitcher Brett Myers Wednesday night, police raided a $2.5 million illegal sports-gambling ring, which was taking bets on the game.
As phones were ringing off the hook in two West Philadelphia locations, nine area men were arrested about 7 p.m. in an "extremely sophisticated" gambling operation in which bettors used personal-identification numbers to place bets, said Chief Inspector Bill Colarulo, head of Special Investigations Bureau.
Police expect to arrest "two or three" others in the ongoing investigation. The nine men, ages 23-48, were each charged with two misdemeanors, including conspiracy and bookmaking, offenses that usually garner probation.
Investigators, who received an anonymous tip about the ring in February, said they were looking into whether the operation was linked to the mafia, and enlisted the FBI-Police Organized Crime squad.
In the past, illicit gambling operations either paid tribute payments - street tax - to the mob, or edged off - leveraged - their bets to a larger mob-related bank.
"We have a strong feeling" that it's linked to the mob, said Lt. Charles Green, head of the citywide police vice unit. Once the mob takes the money, it goes into drugs, prostitution and pornography, he said.
"You're not running a large operation like this without edging off to somebody," added Green, holding an inch-thick stack of computer printouts.
At one location on Atwood Street near Media, workers sat in front of eight computer stations, answering phones from bettors who called an 800-number, he said.
The clerks appeared stunned when vice cops and patrol officers burst through their security-enhanced steel door. The door was so well-fortified, with two deadbolt locks, said Green, that "we wouldn't have been able to get in without a guy coming out."
As a bettor gave his PIN over the phone, his name would flash on the screen of a computer monitor, showing what the bettor owed, Green said.
Other screens showed professional basketball, baseball, hockey games and even auto races, along with the statistics of each player, the odds, point spread, payout and weather at each sports location, he added.
Police seized 19 computers, which were attached to two servers, a system estimated to cost about $60,000; along with 1,451 sports bets valued at $64,000 in tally work, and $4,650 in cash from Atwood Street and Haverford Avenue near 65th Street.
Police asked for assistance from the Department of Justice Computer Forensic Lab in Radnor to analyze the computer data in the gambling operation.
Of the nine arrested, two were from Philadelphia: Michael O'Brien, 25, of Arch Street in Center City, who also was charged with possession of a controlled substance; and Brad Pesin, 33, of Spring Garden Street in West Philadelphia.
Five Delaware County residents were arrested: John MacDonald, 48, of Upper Darby; Leonard Gesualdo, 23, of Havertown; Gregory Graham, 25, of Drexel Hill; Henry Paris, 31, of Springfield; and Michael J. Feliianai, 43, of Secane.