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‘Linchpin’ of illegal betting operation fined, placed on probation

His truck was also forfeited to state for involvement in criminal activity

WAILUKU – A Kahului man, described as the “linchpin” in an illegal sports betting operation, was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and was placed on four years’ probation Thursday.

Paul Vargas, 70, had $2,200 in cash and his 2015 Dodge Ram truck forfeited to the state.

The money and vehicle were seized when Maui Police Department officers executed search warrants for Vargas and his property in 2015, said Deputy Prosecutor Mike Kagami.

He said betting sheets and other gambling records were found in the truck.

“During the MPD operation, Mr. Vargas was seen operating this truck while engaged in these gambling activities,” Kagami said in asking for the truck to be forfeited.

Vargas asked for the truck to be returned to him.

“He uses it for fishing,” said his attorney, Gerald Johnson. “He’s been without it for the last five years pending this case. I can see them holding it as evidence, but taking the truck is not warranted.”

He said Vargas is in poor health and had suffered after paying $15,000 to his former attorney in the case.

Vargas was among 23 people arrested and charged with allegedly participating in the betting operation from Oct. 3 to Dec. 21, 2015.

He had pleaded no contest to first-degree promotion of gambling, with other charges dismissed in exchange for his plea.

Although he had initially asked for a chance to keep the conviction off his record, he agreed to withdraw the request Thursday based on his prior record that includes convictions for gambling and possession of a gambling device in cockfighting cases.

“This man’s been involved in more chicken deaths than Colonel Sanders,” 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill said.

“Would you at least admit today that you like to gamble?” Cahill asked Vargas.

“Oh, yeah,” he replied.

“If you lived in Rome in 79 A.D. when they opened up the Coliseum, I have no doubt whatsoever that you would be there taking bets,” Cahill told Vargas. “That’s just who you are.”

Cahill said court staff had been familiar with Vargas for 35 or 40 years. He has more of a gambling history than any of the others arrested in the operation, Cahill said.

As part of his sentence, Vargas was ordered not to gamble and not to go to any gambling establishments, whether legal or illegal. Except for medical reasons or to see an attorney, Vargas was ordered not to leave Maui unless he has permission from the court.

“You’re just going to have to follow through for the next four years,” Cahill said. “You’re not going to be able to take any bets or make any bets.”

Vargas reported he hasn’t worked since 1987 and has an income from disability.

Judge Cahill said he set Vargas’ fine at $10,000 “since you are the linchpin of this entire operation.”

Noting that Vargas has a boat named Four Queens, Cahill said, “you’re lucky I didn’t rename the boat Aces and Eights.”

“It’s the dead man’s hand,” Cahill said. “Because then you would be doing the five years.”

The judge said he was following a plea agreement between the defense and prosecution in placing Vargas on probation rather than sending him to prison.

Vargas asked why others arrested in the operation had their vehicles returned, yet he didn’t.

“You were using the truck as part of a criminal enterprise,” Cahill told Vargas.

Cahill said the police investigation, which included wiretaps, also showed Vargas used Kahului boat harbor as his office.

“Every phone call, with the exception of a couple, you’re the guy taking the bets and placing the bets,” Cahill said to Vargas. “You’re meeting people one after the other.”

The judge asked Vargas whether someone who shot another person would get the gun back. Vargas said no.

“So you don’t get the truck back either,” Cahill said.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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