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One of the strangest sports betting-related court cases in history just took another step into the land of the bizarre, where one of the most famous punters on the Americas side of the Atlantic, Billy Walters, continues a very public fight against insider-trading charges in a case that also involves perennial global top-ten golf pro Phil Mickelson.
Before you dismiss it all as boring business talk, here’s the latest in the juicy tale: Lawyers for Billy Walters filed a motion to dismiss the US federal-level case after it was revealed that one of the FBI investigators was involved in leaking case info to major news outlets such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Walters was charged last year with several counts of wire and securities fraud related to activity involving one of the US’s major dairy food producers, Dean Foods, primarily in 2012.
Both Walters, a known associate of ex-Dean Foods chairman Thomas Davis, and Mickelson profited handsomely from trades involving Dean Foods and another company connected to Davis, Darden Restaurants. The US’s Securities and Exchange Commission, when indicting Walters and Davis, alleged that Davis had leaked to Walters privileged information on many occasions from 2008 to 2013.
Walters was alleged to have profited by tens of millions of dollars throughout the scheme, which included some high comedy. According to an SEC statement on the case released last spring, Walters and Davis used prepaid cell phones — often known as “burner phones” due to the general lack of ID needed to use and purchase them – which show up frequently in these sorts of tales. Davis was also told by Walters at one point to refer to Dean Foods as the “Dallas Cowboys” during their phone conversations, just in case they were being monitored… which it seems they were.
Then there’s the Mickelson connection. Mickelson, a.k.a. “Lefty,” the five-time major winner (including the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield), has long been renowned, if that’s the word for it, for being a high-stakes gambler off the links as well as on. Mickelson’s also been a long-time friend of Walters, who owns three golf courses in Las Vegas and isn’t too bad with the sticks himself. According to the SEC, Mickeslon was in debt to Walters over some sports-betting losses, and Walters advised – perhaps with a nod and a wink – that Mickelson should invest in some of the same Dean / Darden positions that Walters was taking. Mickelson did just that, made about a million himself, and used that money to pay back his debt to Walters.
It seemed for a while, when the Dean Foods probe was announced last year, that Mickelson might also be charged criminally in connection with the case. However, the SEC’s case against him was, seemingly, more tenuous, and he was instead sued as a “relief defendant,” meaning the government wanted only a refund of the money. Mickelson has already settled with the SEC, paying a $1.03 million fine for his “ill-gotten gains.” Truth is, Mickelson was probably fortunate to get away that cheap. He’d already been linked to both Billy Walters and another insider-trading scandal before, that one in 2014, involving Clorox and billionaire financier Carl Icahn.
Walters enjoyed no such luck. As a super-successful punter who’s even been featured on shows such as “60 Minutes” and on CNBC, he’s something of a target. Apparently, the case is so juicy that the US feds themselves couldn’t keep from leaking the details. Last month, the US’s Department of Justice confirmed that some information had been leaked; last week, that confirmation picked up more specifics when FBI agent David Chaves was announced as having confessed to leaking info to the Times and WSJ. (Chaves will now face criminal charges himself, according to last week’s updates.)
For Billy Walters, though, the confirmed leak represents a longshot opportunity: his lawyers have filed a motion to the court to toss out the insider-trading case in its entirety. That’s not necessarily going to happen, as the leak happened well after the financial crimes alleged to have been committed by Walters and Davis had long since occurred, but it’s also not unprecedented. It is though, another entertaining and newsworthy development in one of the strangest sports-betting cases of recent years.
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