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Iowa agency overseeing gambling investigation defends search of college athletes' online activities

The agency that oversees the enforcement of Iowa's gambling laws issued a statement Wednesday defending its investigation into sports wagering by athletes at Iowa and Iowa State.

Defense attorneys for three former or current Iowa State athletes wrote in court documents filed last week that there was no probable cause for the searches into online wagering activities that resulted in criminal charges and lost NCAA eligibility.

The state Department of Public Safety said in its statement that it believes its methods stand up to legal scrutiny.

“The Department traditionally does not comment on active investigations or litigation in an effort to ensure these matters are appropriately addressed by our justice system rather than the media,” the statement said. “We believe the evidence was obtained in a constitutionally permissible manner. Ultimately it is up to the courts to decide.”

Attorneys for former ISU football players Isaiah Lee and Jirehl Brock and wrestler Paniro Johnson wrote in motions for discovery that special agents for the state Division of Criminal Investigation, which is under the Department of Public Safety, acted improperly.

Lee, Brock and Johnson were among about two dozen Iowa State and Iowa athletes criminally charged. Those three each face a felony charge of identity theft and an aggravated misdemeanor charge of tampering with records. Former Iowa State football player Enyi Uwazurike, who faces the same charges as the other three in Iowa, is now with the Denver Broncos and was suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL games in 2022.

Most of the Iowa and Iowa State athletes who were charged pleaded guilty to underage gambling, paid fines and had identity theft charges dropped. The identity theft charges stemmed from athletes registering accounts on mobile sports betting apps under different names, usually a relative.

Lee's attorney, Van Plumb, cited depositions in which DCI special agents acknowledged placing a geofence around Iowa and Iowa State athletic facilities that have restricted access and found evidence of open wagering apps. Plumb said there was no reasonable cause for the search and that the athletes' privacy was invaded.

The Department of Public Safety said in its statement that the evolution of gaming has given rise to emerging technologies that help regulate the industry and enforce the law.

The statement cited an administrative rule requiring "sportsbooks to implement location detection procedures to reasonably detect and dynamically monitor the location of a player attempting to place any wager” and to notify account holders about information being gathered and shared.

The statement also cited a section of state code requiring sports wagering licensees to “employ reasonable steps to prohibit coaches, athletic trainers, officials, players, or other individuals who participate in an authorized sporting event that is the subject of sports wagering, from sports wagering.”

Software programs helped identify anomalies suggesting suspicious or criminal activity that could undermine sports gambling in Iowa and ensure regulatory compliance, the statement said.

“Prior to using the tools provided, the Department of Public Safety conferred with legal counsel to ensure lawful access to and use of the technology,” the statement said. “Two county attorney offices also reviewed all relevant investigative information before making the ultimate decision to file charges.”

Plumb, in an email statement, responded by reiterating that investigators lacked probable cause to monitor the athletes' online activity because there had never been a complaint. Plumb noted that in a separate case of underage gambling in Iowa, two teens admitted to using an adult's wagering app to place bets before a warrant was issued.

“The comparison of these two investigations creates legal questions as to why they were handled differently by the same law enforcement agency,” Plumb wrote.

Plumb also noted that DCI special agent Brian Sanger acknowledged in a deposition that he had no reasonable cause to initiate an investigation of the athletes.

Attorneys for the other defendants did not respond to requests for comment.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football