FBI investigating Miami cops in bookmaking case
At least one Miami police officer has been relieved of duty in connection with the federal probe, and arrests of several officers are expected in January.
BY KATHLEEN MCGRORY AND JAY WEAVER
At least a half-dozen Miami Police officers have been targeted by the FBI for their alleged roles in providing protection for a Liberty City sports gambling operation that was uncovered more than a year ago, according to authorities familiar with the case.
At least one Miami officer has been relieved of duty in connection with the investigation into the bookmaking business, which has been shut down, authorities said.
The initial probe by the FBI, which has been assisted by the police department, evolved into a broader investigation involving some of the officers. Arrests of at least six Miami officers — and possibly more — are expected as early as January, according to authorities.
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From the Miami Herald, Aug. 3, 1986:
GAMBLING WAS A SAFE BET AS EARLY MIAMI LURED TOURISTS
by Marc Fisher
Gambling and South Florida have gone together since Henry Flagler built tony gambling casinos alongside his hotels from Palm Beach to Miami, where the pioneer developer opened the Seminole Club beside the old Royal Palm Hotel at the mouth of the Miami River.
Throughout the first half of the century, illegal gambling prospered openly in Dade County mainly because, as one-time Miami Herald columnist Jack Kofoed wrote, "Even pious people were nudged by a conviction that a resort city cannot survive without betting."
Within a few years after the city was born, gambling joints thrived on Miami Avenue, in the area called the Tenderloin, a wild and wide-open cut of what is now downtown. A Miami grand jury reported in 1923 that in much of the city, tourists and residents alike could find "numerous slot machines, punchboards and other gambling devices that even little children may play without being molested."
From the start, Dade's gambling was more than a back-alleys sideshow. Even Miami's most honored pioneers sanctioned gambling: Games abounded in Flagler's hotels and at the Tuttles' family home.
Miami Beach developer Carl Fisher was considered an anomaly for insisting that casinos attracted the wrong crowd. Fisher managed to keep casinos off the Beach for a time, but that attitude dissipated as South Florida boomed. (Indeed, even Fisher -- or at least his mansion -- came to be part of the gambling scene. In the '30s, the pioneer's home became the Bath and Tennis Club, a high society casino.)
Before long, there was the Palm Island Club, later known as the Latin Quarter, and the Brook Club in Surfside, combination casinos and nightclubs that offered the biggest names in entertainment: Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker.
Big Bill Dwyer's Palm Island Club set the pattern for South Florida casinos. Opening in the late '20s over the protests of the swank island's residents, the club was primarily a nightspot, a showcase for top-dollar stars and semi-nude chorus girls. Of course, to pay the bills, the club had a casino. And to keep the peace, Dwyer's boys delivered "ice" -- cold cash -- to the police, city officials and others who might have thought about ruining some swell's night on the town.
Ice became part of the local routine. By the late '30s, payola at the Royal Palm in downtown Miami came to $25,000 a week, chickenfeed compared to the casino's nightly take of $200,000 and even an occasional $2 million.
World War II crimped the casino trade. Like most large buildings in South Florida, the casinos were used to house soldiers. The Colonial was home to an Army Signal Corps unit: Enlisted men lived in the gambling room. After the war, the casinos reopened, but business wasn't the same. Politicians, once protectors of the casinos, began to change their tune. In 1948, the state attorney's office closed down the Colonial. Most other casinos disappeared soon thereafter.
But the bookmakers of the S&G Syndicate continued to operate in the open, with no pressure from police. Like any thriving business, the syndicate had offices, at least six of them scattered around the heart of Miami Beach, control points for a network of, by one count, 314 bookmaking operations.
Sam Friedman and Jules Levitt ran one office in a Washington Avenue apartment building. Another operated out of the Mercantile Bank building. In each office, employees who had been through the S&G's bookmaking school sat with telephones at long tables divided by boards into stalls. On the wall, a blackboard was filled with entries and odds of all the U.S. race tracks then running.
Miami Beach police not only failed to enforce anti-gambling laws, but they protected the S&G from competition. When New York gambler Frank Erickson paid the Roney Plaza Hotel $45,000 for a three-month bookie concession, Beach police raided the place and sent Erickson packing, returning the hotel to S&G control.