Iowa State athletes’ lawyers scoff at investigator’s disappointment in gambling charges being dropped

March 4, 2024 8:27 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Eric Olson, Associated Press
March 4, 2024 8:27 PM

Attorneys for four Iowa State athletes who had been charged in a sports wagering case said Monday it was alarming that the Iowa Department of Public Safety commissioner expressed disappointment that prosecutors decided to drop the case.

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A Story County judge granted the county attorney office’s motion Friday to dismiss all charges because the Division of Criminal Investigation was found to have misused tracking software that detected open mobile betting apps in ISU athletic facilities.

DPS commissioner Stephan Bayens, whose office oversees the DCI, said in a statement Friday that prosecutors repeatedly told him and his staff that they believed methods used in the investigation were legal.

“I understand why this investigation and the resulting charges have generated so much attention and such strong opinions,” Bayens said. “We love our college sports here in Iowa, myself included. Had this situation not involved college athletes, the public perception may have been entirely different.

“As law enforcement officers, we take an oath to uphold the law and we do so without exception, even when it’s difficult. Throughout the investigation and subsequent prosecution, we continually reviewed our actions and I fully stand behind the investigation and the agents who did the work.”

Football players Isaiah Lee, Jirehl Brock and Enyi Uwazurike and wrestler Paniro Johnson were among about two dozen ISU and Iowa athletes criminally charged last year. They each faced a felony charge of identity theft and an aggravated misdemeanor charge of tampering with records.

Most of the athletes who were charged pleaded guilty to underage gambling, paid fines and had identity theft charges dropped.

The identity theft charges stemmed from athletes registering accounts on mobile sports betting apps under different names, usually a relative.

In response to Bayens’ statement, attorneys Van Plumb and Matt Boles and the Sandy Law Firm said the commissioner’s support of DCI’s “unregulated use” of the geolocation tracking software “to conduct warrantless criminal investigations without reasonable cause is deeply concerning.”

The DPS had issued a statement on Jan. 31 that said it believed the investigation would stand up to legal scrutiny. The defense attorneys contend that was disingenuous because GeoComply, which produces the tracking software, days earlier had terminated DCI’s access to the tool after an investigator had violated the user agreement.

“DPS doubling down on its support of DCI’s investigation is alarming, and its failure to disclose some of the aforementioned exculpatory information to the prosecution appears to have been concerning enough for the Story County Attorney’s Office to dismiss its pending criminal cases against our clients,” the defense attorneys said.

The software that discovered the open betting apps and ultimately identified the athletes was used in spite of there never having been a complaint about illegal sports wagering or match fixing. The investigation resulted in the criminal charges and lost NCAA eligibility.

“The greater tragedy herein is the enormous impact on private lives law enforcement can wield when given unfettered access to technology to search and seize your electronic geolocation data and communications without so much as reasonable cause,” the defense attorneys said.