Filing: Agent felt Iowa betting probe was illegal

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An agent involved in the state of Iowa’s investigation into wagering activities of college athletes recently testified that the probe was an “illegal search” and that he was “misled” by those in charge.

A motion filed Tuesday on behalf of Iowa State wrestler Paniro Johnson cited a deposition Friday by Mark Ludwick, a special agent with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations, which led the wagering inquiry of athletes at both Iowa State and Iowa. Johnson was among 15 college athletes charged. He and former ISU football player Eyioma Uwazurike, now with the Denver Broncos, were charged with felony identity theft. Christopher Sandy, Johnson’s attorney, filed the motion seeking records about the investigation.

According to the filing, Ludwick, a state witness, testified that he was told by an agent leading the operation that the investigation would be “purely administrative” and would not result in criminal charges. Ludwick interviewed Iowa State football player Isaiah Lee under that premise, and received confirmation from Lee that he had placed sports wagers under another person’s account.

Troy Nelson, a special agent in charge for Iowa DCI, “congratulated” Ludwick “for obtaining a confession,” according to the motion. Lee was charged with tampering with records — he allegedly falsified information used to register accounts on mobile sports wagering apps — and left ISU’s team in August.

“Ludwick realized the purpose of the investigation was criminal in nature, with the sole targets being male Division I student athletes at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University,” the court filing reads. “Special Agent Ludwick advised his superiors that he would no longer participate in the investigation, and requested reassignment.”

Ludwick also said in his deposition that he knows of other DCI agents who refused to participate in the investigation for the same reasons.

Ludwick “concluded that Iowa’s DCI conducted an illegal search” of Iowa and Iowa State athletes without obtaining a warrant to use “GeoFence” technology to obtain wagering activity inside the schools’ athletic facilities, which are restricted to athletes, coaches and staff.

A separate motion filed Monday by Lee’s attorney accused the state of launching a “warrantless” investigation that targeted high-profile college athletes.

The motion filed Monday, seeking discretionary discovery, states that Brian Sanger, special agent for Iowa DCI, who led the task force for the investigation, and a team of DCI agents acted “without reasonable cause,” noting that no warrant, complaints or tips of illegal gambling had been obtained before they began the investigation. Sanger obtained access to a software tool called Kibana that allowed him to view the use of online betting applications in certain facilities through a “GeoFence.”

According to Monday’s motion, Sanger did so without a warrant, complaints or tips of illegal gambling occurring in Iowa and Iowa State’s athletic facilities.

“The DCI does not comment on ongoing court proceedings,” David Jobes, assistant director for Iowa DCI, said in a statement to ESPN. “DCI agents involved in the investigation act as witnesses, and it would be inappropriate to make any comments regarding legal filings or other court proceedings.”

Johnson is not participating in any wrestling meets attached to Iowa State, only unattached tournaments where he pays his own way. Several football players also lost their eligibility for the season, including ISU starting quarterback Hunter Dekkers.

“From Day 1, when my athletes called me on that morning in early May, I knew this thing was a mess and I knew it was mismanaged and I knew it was mishandled, and I’m glad it’s coming to light now,” Cyclones wrestling coach Kevin Dresser told reporters Tuesday.

“These athletes served really harsh penalties in the NCAA world, probably harsher than I think they should have. But at the same time, I’m not dismissing or minimizing that they made a mistake.”

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