WINTER HAVEN (FOX 13) - Detectives in Polk County busted a large illegal sports gambling operation. In all, they arrested 25 people for having their hands in the black market betting.
It's called "Operation Parlay." Detectives seized more than $139,000 in cash, assets and guns.
Those running the gambling operation worked out of two locations - BW&D Check Cashing in Lakeland and My Wireless in Winter Haven.
Driving past the storefronts, you'd assume they were stores selling wireless phones or cashing checks. But, to those in the know, these were also the places to place bets.
"When you set up storefronts to conduct illegal gambling, it upsets us very bad and we investigate and arrest people that do that," said Sheriff Grady Judd.
Last year, detectives conducting a drug trafficking operation at BW&D Check Cashing realized it was also housing illegal sports betting.
They soon were directed to My Wireless. Detectives say Rene "Johnny" Rosado was running it.
"Whenever they run a boon," Judd explained, "Their profit comes from the juice of the 10 percent in the middle. They expect to have enough bets on both sides so that balances out."
Rosado kept things so quiet, even nearby businesses had no clue.
"Very shocked," said Michelle Wood of A & A Insurance Group. "I thought they sold calling cards actually. He's always been professional. He has insurance with us as well as some of his family members. Always been polite."
Polite, maybe. But, detectives discovered $35,000 in cash at Rosado's home, along with his pricey palate for alcohol. He wasn't working alone.
More than $41,000 was hiding inside the home of a Polk County school bus driver, Warren Hawthorne. Hawthorne owns BW&D Check Cashing and rented the space used for gambling, to Rosado.
Judd said, "The Polk County School system needs school bus drivers. And today, they need one more."
Detectives also found eight guns in the home. Two of them were stolen.
The Polk County School District tells us Hawthorne is suspended with pay.
"That's a lot of money, a lot of people, firearms, too," Wood said. "Yeah, that's pretty serious."
Detectives brought the whole thing down after running a reverse sting operation. They waited as gamblers came looking to collect on previous bets, or to place new ones. In all, they arrested 25 people for their hands in the black-market betting.
Sheriff Judd is looking for one more, though. He wants to find Monica Lugo of Lakeland, who he says helped the Winter Haven operation.
"Monica, make it easy on yourself," Judd said. "Go ahead and turn yourself in. We will meet you at the county jail. You can post your bond because if you keep running, you're just going to go to jail tired."
Hawthorne and Rosado could have more charges on the way. Sheriff Judd plans to petition the State Attorney to file felony racketeering charges.