Swedish Businessman Who Used San Diego Card Room for Organized Crime Pleads Guilty

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Swedish businessman Petter Magnus Karlsson pleaded guilty Thursday to engaging in an international racketeering conspiracy that used a San Diego card room as a front for illegal sports bookmaking and related criminal activity.

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Karlsson, who had been living in Asia, voluntarily traveled to the United States last week to face charges that had been pending for nine months, according to prosecutors.

According to his plea agreement, Karlsson helped provide financing to lead co-defendant Sydney Bruce Segal in order to bankroll the latter’s bookmaking operation, which prosecutors allege took illegal sports bets from customers across Southern California and in Arizona.

Karlsson also provided Segal and others in the enterprise with access to offshore sports-gaming websites hosted in Curacao, Costa Rica, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom so they could place large illegal bets online while shielding their alleged unlawful activity from U.S. authorities, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

According to prosecutors, the enterprise’s primary offshore sports gambling website, betmex.net, was owned and operated by co-defendant David Gregg Leppo, and Karlsson supervised another accomplice, Pablo Ballestero Frech, in managing accounts for Segal on Leppo’s website and others.

Frech returned from Canada to face charges and pleaded guilty last October to unlawful transmission of wagering information. Karlsson, Segal and others allegedly involved in the conspiracy regularly used runners and other means to transfer large sums of money among themselves to fuel their operation, court documents state.

On one occasion, according to the plea agreement, Karlsson and Frech personally picked up a shoebox containing $90,000 in cash from Segal’s front doorstep.

As part of his plea, Karlsson agreed to forfeit $139,834, which represents direct proceeds of his participation in the offenses.

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Seven defendants in addition to Karlsson also have pleaded guilty to gambling charges as part of cases stemming from the investigation of Lucky Lady Casino and Card Room on El Cajon Boulevard in the College area.

Segal is due in court on June 26 for a motions hearing.

“For too long, transnational criminal organizations have attempted to skirt United States laws by using offshore servers, networks of illicit cash couriers and complex financial transactions,” Acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson said. “But tycoons in the lucrative world of international sports gambling now have one sure bet — if your conduct violates American law, you will find yourself in a United States courtroom and be held to account.”

Karlsson faces maximum penalties of 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines at his sentencing hearing, scheduled for July 17.

–City News Service

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