By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
ESPN showed vice detectives from the Broward Sheriff's Office the footage, and another tipster told the cops to zero in on Bivens, known around the league as "Coach B."The 36-year-old is the founder and coach of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes, which has about 400 kids ranging from ages 4 to 15. He's one of the area's most successful coaches, winning 15 championships since 2004 in several different weight classes. For coaches like Wallace, Bivens was well-known for turning the Hurricanes into an elite program.
But all along, the Hurricanes honcho was playing another role in the SFYFL: head bookie, says BSO Det. Solomon Barnes, lead investigator assigned to the case. "He was in charge," Barnes says. "This is a problem that has been going on for a long time. It is just starting to come out in the open."
Here's how it allegedly worked: Bivens and the other dirty coaches would arrange wagers by phone prior to game day. Before the league Super Bowl in 2011, for instance, coaches from teams hailing from Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach, and Fort Lauderdale bet enough cash to build up a $100,000 pot on the game.
Deputies also caught coaches handling bets at two games between the Deerfield Packer-Rattlers and the Lauderhill Lions. During a sting on October 14 and 15, Barnes watched a confidential informant place two separate bets with Dave Small, a 42-year-old coach for the Lions, and Darron Bostic, a 29-year-old coach for the Packer-Rattlers.
Barnes provided the snitch with $600 to make the wagers. In one contest, Small allegedly told the informant that the point spread was six points for Deerfield Beach. Small and Bostic, who were each charged with one count of felony bookmaking, denied their involvement in illegal gambling in police reports. "That's a bold-faced lie," Bostic said when he was confronted by news crews from ESPN. Added Small: "It wasn't me, buddy. They got the wrong one."
While stalking those games, detectives also kept tabs on Bivens and five other coaches who frequented Red Carpet Kutz and the sporting goods store. Between June 25, 2011, and October 14 of last year, informants and undercover cops bet $50 a pop on sporting events at the two establishments, which were both owned by Bivens. Detectives dug through the trash from Bivens' house, finding wager reports, betting receipts, and deposit slips that matched the checking account number for Bivens, who declined comment for this article.
Even as police were closing in on Bivens and the other coaches, the league was already crumbling in the aftermath of the ESPN piece. Michael Spivey, the league's president, said coaches were upset with his attempts to address the gambling. For example, Spivey wanted the league to require volunteers to watch the ESPN report. He also wanted to be able to kick out any coach or volunteer who was caught betting.
Instead, last January, ten clubs — including Bivens' team, the Hurricanes — left the SFYFL to join the new Florida Youth Football League, AKA the "Flo League," whose founder is Carol City rapper Flo Rida. The league runs under the umbrella of the National Youth Football League, an organization headed by Miami New Times columnist Luther Campbell. In March, five clubs from Miami Gardens, including Wallace's Bulldogs, also switched over to the FYFL.
When Bivens and the other coaches were arrested on October 30, it sent shock waves through both leagues. (The cases are all still pending.) FYFL's chief executive, Lee Prince (who is also known as "Freezy" and works as Flo Rida's manager), and league president Maultsby both denied knowing anything about the illegal ring. They both say the league is clean."We saw how poorly the other league was run," Prince says, referring to the SFYFL. "We're doing things the right way."
Both men said they never would have suspected Bivens of being involved in an illegal ring. "Brandon definitely caught me by surprise," Maultsby says. "I know the good he has done for his program."
Bivens was banned from the league after his arrest. "We have to do right by these kids," Maultsby says.
Barnes, at least, is not convinced the October bust smashed illegal gambling in youth football, nor that Flo Rida's league has any better safeguards in place than the SFYFL. "The publicity has absolutely driven it underground," says the cop, whose investigation found no evidence that Wallace or any other Miami coaches were involved in the ring. "Our investigation is not over by any means."
As for Wallace, he says the busts forced gamblers to stop wagering on little-league games so brazenly out in the open.
"ESPN singled some guys out," Wallace says. "But there are a lot more people gambling on games than those guys. The report makes it look like we are in it for all the wrong reasons. I know I'm here for the kids."
As the Bulldogs run out to receive their last kickoff before halftime, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III joins FYFL bigwigs Prince and Maultsby to quietly pace the sideline. Wallace, Mathis, and the other coaches yell at their star players to dig in as they wait to receive the Patriots' kickoff.
"We got less than a minute to score," Wallace yells. "Let's show them what we're made of!" In the stands, Nay'quan's mom nervously grips the bill of her Heat cap. "I can't believe we gave up the lead," Gainer says exasperatedly. "These West Miramar boys can play."