Gambling case ends with plea deal, no jail time

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Bret A. Wells

HANCOCK COUNTY — The case against a New Palestine man accused of running an illegal bookmaking business that prosecutors said took in more than $ 17 million in sports bets over a three-year period is over. Following the acceptance of a plea agreement this week in a county court, Bret A. Wells will spend no time in jail.

Wells, 48, 7000 block of Old Colony Drive, was facing six charges in all, including a Level 5 felony for corrupt business influence related to the business. As part of the plea agreement, Wells pleaded guilty to one charge, an amended count of professional gambling, a Level 6 felony that will cause him to spend the next 18 months on probation.

While the plea agreement called for a sentence of as much as two years in prison, Judge Scott Sirk of Hancock County Circuit Court settled on probation following a back-and-forth between Wells’ attorney and prosecutors on Thursday, Dec. 9, in Circuit Court.

The plea agreement also calls for Wells to complete a problem-gambling assessment.

Wells will be eligible to earn an alternative misdemeanor sentencing after he completes the terms of the agreement, it states.

As part of the agreement, the state agreed to dismiss the remaining four Level 6 felony gambling and theft charges as well as the Level 5 felony, which carried a sentence of up to six years in prison if Wells had been found guilty.

The case against Wells, who officials from the Indiana Gaming Commission said in an affidavit netted more than $1.8 million from the operation, hit a snag when Wells’ attorney, James H. Voyles, successfully sought to have some of the evidence against him tossed out.

The challenge to the evidence-gathering hinged on a search warrant executed by investigators in the spring of 2019. Its wording, Voyles argued, precluded a search of Wells’ pickup truck, from which investigators had recovered a cellphone that allegedly contained many text conversations with gambling clients.

Judge Scott Sirk agreed to suppress the evidence. Chief deputy prosecutor Aimee Herring noted at the time the ruling would impact the case.

The gaming commission began investigating Wells in July 2018.

Investigators described an operation that in total made more than 176,000 betting transactions starting in January 2016. The case was based in part on information from a former business partner and surveillance by gaming commission investigators.

The former business partner, who was not identified in court documents, saw Wells counting large sums of cash earned from his gambling operation, an affidavit said. The former business partner also said he went with Wells to pick up money and that Wells handled the gambling via two websites.

The Wells case came to light shortly before the laws involving sports gambling changed in the state. Indiana lawmakers approved a wide-ranging gambling bill in April 2019 that was signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in May 2019. The new law legalized sports wagering after six other states moved quickly following a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing it nationwide.