State Agent Testifies Iowa Sports Betting Probe Used ‘Illegal Search’

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Iowa sports betting

A special agent with the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) testified that the organization engaged in an “illegal search” of student-athletes’ online accounts as part of the Iowa sports betting probe, according to a Tuesday court filing. 

According to the filing, DCI special agent Mark Ludwick, a witness for the state, testified that he was “misled” as to the purpose of the Iowa sports betting investigation by higher-ups. 

Ludwick requested to be reassigned as a result, the filing stated. 

“The DCI does not comment on ongoing court proceedings,” a spokesperson told LSR. “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.”

What Iowa State athlete allegedly did

The court filing was made following a Jan. 19 DCI deposition by attorney Christopher Sandy, who is representing Iowa State University wrestler Paniro Johnson

Johnson was alleged to have made more than $45,000 of wagers while using a proxy due to being underage

Johnson pleaded not guilty to charges of identity theft and tampering with records

Misleading Iowa sports betting probe

According to the filing, in May 2023 DCI special agent in charge Troy Nelson informed Ludwick and his colleagues that they were to interview Iowa State students about their online gaming activities. 

Nelson stated that the nature of the investigation was “purely administrative,” targeting online gaming operators like FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook.  

Ludwick realizes probe ‘criminal in nature,’ asks out

Ludwick interviewed Cyclones football player Isaiah Lee, under the premise that “no adverse or communal consequence would be forthcoming.”

However, following the interview, Nelson “congratulated” Ludwick “for obtaining a confession.” 

“Contrary to representations made to him and other Special Agents that morning, Special Agent 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. Special Agent Ludwick advised his superiors that he would no longer participate in the investigation, and requested reassignment,” the filing read. 

Lee’s Iowa sports betting charges

Lee allegedly bet on his own Cyclones team to lose in 2021. He also pleaded not guilty to charges of identity theft and tampering with court records. 

Nine of the 15 student-athletes charged in the case pleaded down to a lesser charge of underaged gambling. A significant portion of the others had charges dismissed due to lack of evidence

Lee’s attorney makes court filing

Lee’s attorney, in a Monday court filing, accused a DCI agent of using a “warrantless search” to obtain evidence.

Attorney Van Plumb explained the filing to LSR:

“Depositions were held on January 19, 2024, of Special Agents with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation. The depositions led to the filing of a Motion to Compel and Motion for Discretionary Discovery. The Motions are the direct result of information learned during the depositions, which is set forth in detail in such Motions, wherein Special Agent (Brian) Sanger chose to use software that allowed him to access people’s private information without a warrant which raises Constitutional issues involving illegal searches and seizures.

“Furthermore, during the depositions DCI Special Agent Ludwick testified he and other Agents were misled by Special Agent Sanger’s team and that the information they obtained from Geofences was a violation of the student athletes’ rights,” Plumb said in a statement. 

Ludwick concludes DCI search illegal

The filing’s summary continued: 

“As a DCI Special Agent with more than 25 years of criminal investigations ranging from major crimes to illicit gambling activity, Special Agent Mark Ludwick concluded that DCI conducted an illegal search of Iowa student athletes and dozens of others’ personal online account information because the agency did not obtain a GeoFence Warrant as well as lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion to conduct such a search.

“Special Agent Ludwick further testified that he is aware of numerous other Special Agents at the DCI who share the same belief and have refused to participate in this investigation.”