Thursday, May 24, 2018
Public safety

Prosecutors drop charges in Tarpon Springs golf course gambling case

TARPON SPRINGS — When word got out that police were investigating the manager of Tarpon Springs' municipal golf course in connection with the common practice of golf wagers, the mocking and ridicule began.

"Tarpon Springs is under investigation for — ready for this? — for gambling on the golf course," Golf Digest wrote.

On Friday, prosecutors said they won't press charges in the case because they can't prove a crime was committed.

"Well, that takes a load off. All along, I figured that might be the case," said the golf course manager, Chuck Winship, when the Tampa Bay Times informed him of the decision.

Winship, 65, resigned from his job this week because of the pressure and publicity surrounding the criminal investigation. "It became a pretty troublesome time. I wasn't sleeping," he said.

However, Tarpon Springs police and city officials say there's more to the story. They say they had an obligation to investigate a complaint that a city employee at a city-owned golf course was violating state laws by directly overseeing gambling and by raffling off a set of golf clubs.

"We didn't look into individual players or somebody making a $2 wager on the back nine," said Tarpon Springs police Capt. Jeffrey Young. "The focus of the investigation was on city employees possibly being involved in illegal gambling activities."

Winship told the Times that about 14 leagues play at the course weekly. League golfers typically pay the normal green fees and cart fees, then put in extra money to be divided at the end of the round. Golfers might get a portion of the pot for lowest round, closest to the pin or lowest score on a hole.

Golfers know the practice is pervasive around the country.

"This happens everyplace," Winship said of the league wagers. "What happened to me could happen to any pro or manager anyplace."

Winship came under investigation after a fired employee directly linked him to the wagering. Ron Moxom, former supervisor of the course's golf shop, sent Winship an email saying, "Each Saturday morning you direct a group of golfers that come only to gamble."

Moxom also raised questions about the golf course raffling off a set of golf clubs in the pro shop. He forwarded the email to the city's administrators and elected leaders, prompting the investigation.

Police determined that, under Florida law, the golf course isn't allowed to hold such a raffle because it's not a charity.

Police also found that Winship was leading one league, the "Saturday Quota League," and was keeping track of its wagers, but they uncovered no evidence that he was profiting from it. Winship said the league's members had asked him to take over after the previous leader was accused of skimming money.

"The investigation showed there was some bad judgment going on, but no real criminal intent," said Tarpon Springs City Manager Mark Lecouris. "Until you investigate, you don't know what the heck is going on there."

Officers investigated the potential violation of two state statutes: keeping a gambling house and game promotion in connection with the sale of consumer products or services. They forwarded the case to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, which decided not to pursue the charges.

"We would need to prove that a golf course met the legal requirement of being a gambling establishment," said Assistant State Attorney Joshua Riba. "We would have to prove that the management of the clubhouse knew that this was occurring. But it would have to be more than just allowing it. They would have to be engaged in the promotion of it."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrassfield.

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