Accused game fixers plead not guilty

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Eight people accused of involvement in a sports-bribery ring that recruited college basketball players to fix games pleaded not guilty Tuesday to conspiracy charges in federal court in San Diego.

Former University of San Diego assistant basketball coach Thaddeus Brown and two former USD players, Brandon Johnson and Brandon Dowdy, were among 10 people named in a federal indictment unsealed Monday in San Diego.

Johnson is USD's all-time leading scorer.

Federal prosecutors say the organizers of the ring conspired to bribe players to alter the outcome of games so the defendants could profit by betting on games in Las Vegas.

The indictment accuses the group of conspiracy to commit sports bribery, running an illegal sports bookmaking operation and distributing marijuana.

Brown, Dowdy and six others — Steve Warda Goria, Paul Joseph Thweni, Richard Francis Garmo, David Gates, Lilian Goria and Richard Thweni — appeared today before Magistrate Judge Louisa Porter for arraignment.

Prosecutors moved to detain Steve Goria and Paul Thweni, alleging they are a danger to the community and at risk of flight.

Bail hearings were scheduled Thursday for Goria and Friday for Thweni. Bail was set for the other defendants.

A motion and trial-setting hearing was scheduled May 20 before U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia.

Porter ordered most of the defendants to have no contact with bettors.

Brown's attorney, Vikas Bajaj, told reporters that his client was looking forward to defending himself against the charges.

“He's confident,” Bajaj said. “There's a lot of support.”

Bajaj said Brown coached youth basketball and also worked at a Gaslamp nightclub.

According to the indictment, Johnson — while he was the starting point guard for USD — took a bribe to influence the result of a game in February 2010. U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy would not be specific on which game was involved.

Also, according to the indictment, Johnson — after he was gone from USD in January 2011 — solicited an individual to affect the outcome of USD basketball games.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Keith Slotter said the investigation, dubbed “Operation Hookshot,” began more than a year ago and started out as a drug probe.

Slotter said he didn't know how many basketball games allegedly were affected by the illegal bookmaking activity.

Authorities said USD is cooperating in the investigation.

“These are very serious allegations and the university is fully cooperating with the investigation,” USD President Mary Lyons said in a letter sent to the “campus community.”

“Shortly after learning about the probe, USD representatives contacted the NCAA to inform them about the situation,” she said.

Duffy alleged that the three lead defendants in the case — San Diego residents Steve Goria, Paul Thweni and Garmo — orchestrated multiple schemes, including the sports bribery scheme allegedly involving Johnson, Brown and Dowdy, who played for the school during the 2006-2007 season and later for UC Riverside.

Brown coached at USD the same year Dowdy played there.

The indictment alleges that in February 2011, Brown and Dowdy solicited an individual to affect the outcome of a college basketball game at UCR.

Johnson, 24, was arrested Saturday in Texas. Another defendant, Jake Salter, is still at large, according to prosecutors.

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