Jesus (l.) was showing the Tampa fans his world class ability in 1979. He quickly replaced Bolivar as the player to beat.
She was a strong woman, a businesswoman. She rarely cried. But, on that morning, Paulyne Fleischman began to sob uncontrollably. “He was arrested this morning on some betting charge and is at the Tampa jail,” Richard Hirsch told her. “Don’t worry, I will get him out, Aunt Pep. He will be okay.”
Hirsch was a partner in Levine, Friedman, and Hirsch. A past Assistant U.S. Attorney and County Attorney, Richard Hirsch had handled his share of big cases. But now he faced one of his biggest challenges. He had to get his cousin released and save his Jai-Alai career.
I was standing in the middle of a holding cell, surrounded by some people I knew and some I didn’t. We were all relating our stories of what happened that morning. Some were laughing, joking about being undressed when they came to the door. Some told the cops to go away, that they were sleeping. The scene was surreal. It was almost as if we were at a party.
Meanwhile, outside of that small cell, our arrests were the news of the day for the city of Tampa in 1979. Within hours, it was on all three television stations, including WTVT, my father’s station. The Tampa Times ran a large headline, “Three Jai-Alai Officials Arrested on Bookmaking Charges.”
Within an hour, Dick Gerrity, Tampa Jai-Alai’s General Manager was alerting the corporate office in Miami of the arrest. Undoubtedly, rumors were flying throughout the Jai-Alai world magnifying the seriousness of our crime. Were we masterminds of a huge bookmaking ring? Did it involve fixing of Jai-Alai games?
As I stood in the cell, I heard my name called. The door opened and I was waved to follow the officer. He led me out to the lobby where Richard greeted me warmly. He saw the look of shock on my face and said, “Marty, everything is going to be all right. I know what you need right now.”
I looked at my Goody Goody cheeseburger with mustard, pickles, and sauce. It was the first time in my life I could barely take a bite. My situation began to sink in. My face became pale. I could not eat my favorite Goody Goody burger.
Richard told me the bookmaking charge for someone that was merely betting was extremely unusual. He felt certain it would be reduced or even dropped with a plea deal. But the problem might be with my pari-mutuel license.
The state has a strict provision that anyone convicted of a felony cannot be licensed to work at a track or fronton. He said we need to absolutely get this reduced to a misdemeanor. I told him that we didn’t place the bets with a “bookie,” He felt confident the charge would be reduced.
When he dropped me off at my apartment, my phone rang. It was Dick Gerrity. He was calm and friendly. Dick was truly like family to me, and I could hear his concern for my well being. Being an ex-FBI agent, he knew a lot about criminals. I wondered if, in his mind, I was now a “criminal.”
He calmly told me that he had spoken to Rico (VP) and Donovan (President). He needed to suspend me pending the outcome of my situation. “Just stay home, keep me posted, and hopefully you will be back to work soon,” he told me. I understood.
Meanwhile, my big concern was for Ricky. He was from the Basque country, had never been in any trouble. I convinced him betting on football was fun. Now, his playing career was in serious jeopardy. Richard got him another attorney and he was quickly released. His fate seemed to be in my hands. My final outcome would definitely affect his case.
After Gerrity’s call, my brother Sol and my mom arrived. As I hugged them, I began to sob. It finally hit me that I had let them down. I had embarrassed them with my stupidity. Yet, they were there, feeling my pain, giving me the support, I needed.
What hurt me the most was the worried look on my mom’s face. Mother’s want to protect their children. This was totally out of her control. She just wanted me to be okay.
It took weeks for the “Information,” the legal charges, to actually be filed. Yes, the charge was Conspiracy to Commit Bookmaking, a third-degree felony. Now, the negotiations would begin.
Richard Hirsch would use all his past contacts in E.J. Salcines’s (State Attorney) office to at least try to reason with them on the charges. He had worked with E.J. and at least could get him to listen. He would show him the misdemeanor gambling statutes and compare them to the bookmaking statutes. Surely, the charges could be reduced. But, for some reason, he was having little success.
But there was worse news. Dan Bradley, Director of the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering was quoted in the newspaper as saying that the three pari-mutuel licensees (Ricky, the state auditor, and me) were going to have their licenses revoked. So, Richard called Bradley directly.
Upon telling Bradley that he represented Marty Fleischman, director of public relations for Tampa Jai-Alai, Richard said he wanted to discuss my case with him. Bradley curtly responded that there was nothing to discuss. He was revoking my license and I was never going to work at any track or fronton the rest of my life.
Hirsch then said he was aware of the felony rule, but there was a good chance the charge would be reduced to a misdemeanor. Bradley responded it didn’t matter. There was a separate rule for licensing that “associating with a bookmaker is grounds for revocation.”
He continued that he was going to use us as an example. He said, “No matter what the outcome of the criminal case, their careers were over.”
When Richard relayed the Bradley conversation to me, I was devastated. “Even if the charges are dropped, I still can’t work at Jai-Alai?” I asked him.
Richard sadly replied, “That appears to be his position.” “I’m afraid it’s going to be up to you to talk to someone, anyone you think can change his mind,” Richard said. “I will work on the legal end. Your job is Bradley.”
As I sat in virtual exile, I tried to imagine what I was going to do with the rest of my life. What was Ricky going to do? I had to find a way. I was not going to give up. Then, Dick Gerrity called. He said I needed to meet him that night for dinner, somewhere outside the fronton. He had something very important to discuss with me. I could hear in his voice my future at Tampa Jai-Alai was, indeed, over.