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Former Battalion Chief Linked to High-Stakes Firehouse Betting Ring

Former Battalion Chief Linked to High-Stakes Firehouse Betting Ring

San Francisco Chronicle via YellowBrix

August 10, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO – A former South San Francisco firefighter has been charged with running a high-stakes sports betting ring, using city phones to wager an average of $500 a week and soliciting colleagues to participate, authorities said.

James Anthony Selvitella Jr., 52, a onetime battalion chief, was charged with conspiracy and bookmaking in San Mateo County Superior Court along with four other defendants: Michael Joseph Cooper, 50; William James Kirkpatrick, 63; Louis Kristo- vich, 71; and Christopher Mesa, 63.

All appeared in court Friday and are free on their own recognizance.

Selvitella solicited firefighters in his department to make sports bets and personally collected or paid out on the bets from 2006 to 2009, said Steve Wagstaffe, San Mateo County’s chief deputy district attorney.

The operation involved “hundreds of thousands of dollars wagered every day” using an 800 telephone number and was uncovered during a personnel investigation involving Selvitella and another firefighter, Wagstaffe said.

Investigators said Selvitella used city telephones to place bets on sporting events three times per shift, on average. Selvitella, authorities said, made nearly 1,000 calls to the 800 number and bet an average of $500 a week.

State Department of Justice agents surveilled the suspects and determined that Cooper, Kristovich and Kirkpatrick acted as “bagmen” for the gambling organization, Wagstaffe said.

A search of a San Francisco home associated with Mesa yielded betting records showing $470,000 in bets for just one day, prosecutors said.

Selvitella, who owned a Petaluma bar, was fired by the department in 2008, court records show. The city accused Selvitella, a 25-year department veteran, of engaging in bookmaking activities while on duty, encouraging a subordinate firefighter to become involved – the firefighter lost $30,000 – and lying to investigators, records show.

Selvitella denied any wrongdoing and filed a lawsuit against South San Francisco that same year, saying the department “had no rules regulating gambling on duty and had long tolerated such practices.” He said he was fired in retaliation for complaining that the city wanted outside candidates to fill a deputy chief position.

In December, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled against Selvitella, who has since appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.