Judge tosses cases against 9 in gambling probe - East Valley Tribune: News

Judge tosses cases against 9 in gambling probe

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Posted: Friday, October 31, 2008 7:25 pm | Updated: 11:07 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A Superior Court judge effectively threw out the cases of nine men indicted in March in a massive illegal-gambling probe.

On Thursday, Judge Roland Steinle sided with the defendants, who argued that the Maricopa County Attorney's Office violated their constitutional rights by not telling the grand jury that indicted them about federal Internet gaming laws and a state law that could have cleared them.

Under Steinle's order, the county attorney can take the cases back to the grand jury to get new indictments.

Steinle made similar rulings on two other cases in September.

The case involves 35 defendants accused of being managers, bookies or collectors in four loosely associated gambling rings that operated in the East Valley and Scottsdale.

The sheriff's office rounded up the defendants in April 2007 and seized millions of dollars in cash and assets after a more than yearlong investigation in which undercover deputies infiltrated the groups and bugged their phones and offices.

County attorney spokesman Barnett Lotstein said his office is considering whether to seek new indictments in the cases Steinle tossed.

Authorities say the gambling was illegal because the bets were made online but the debts were settled in Arizona.

Authorities also allege that the gambling rings dealt in loan sharking.

The grand jury in March returned a 250-count indictment, more than half of them misdemeanors.

Steinle also threw out all of the misdemeanor counts on Thursday, saying that prosecutors took too long to file the charges.

One of the cases Steinle threw out completely was against Eugene Valentini, who was accused of being the ringleader of one of the groups.

Also getting a break was Ralph Dipiero III, 40, son of another of the accused ringleaders, Ralph Dipiero Jr., 79, a reputed mobster.

Chandler businessman James Bennitt got his case tossed in September.

Bennitt argued in court documents that the county attorney misled the grand jury by providing only the facts that fit the state's theory of Bennitt's involvement.

Bennitt has said he was simply a high-stakes bettor who lost large sums of money and was not in business with Valentini as authorities alleged.

Bennitt's attorney, Jean Jacques Cabou, argued that Bennitt can prove his innocence if given a chance to testify before the grand jury.

Steinle ordered that Bennitt be allowed to testify if the county attorney takes his case to the grand jury again.

Even if prosecutors give up on the criminal case, a parallel civil forfeiture case can still go forward, and Bennitt stands to lose everything he owns.

"That seems like an obvious end run around due process," Cabou said.

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