By Brenda Flanagan
It’s the Sweet 16 — March Madness — and analysts say more people bet on these games than on the Super Bowl. You find office pools plastered with NCAA brackets. Even the president’s got picks. If everybody plays, why did school teacher John Bovery get busted by the Monmouth County prosecutor for running a sports pool on the side.
“I just don’t get it. The hypocrisy speaks for itself,” said Bovery.
Bovery’s pool did stand out for its sheer size. Although he ran everything from a simple home computer, using his jrwinkle website, players swamped Bovery’s operation. He claims the prosecutor waited to arrest him until Sept. 9 — when the NFL kicked off its 2010 season with the Vikings at New Orleans. That day, Bovery’s bank account held $720,000 from 3,400 players in the football pool. But he insists jrwinkle wasn’t a betting operation, he says he only accepted “gifts” from each player in exchange for running the pool — twice earning him more than $100,000 a year.
“Folks I don’t believe I ever accepted a bet in my life. I held the money in a pool, that people played against each other. I know through the use of checks in and checks out, that I never hid or concealed anything. I know I did not knowingly do anything wrong,” Bovery said.
So how did Bovery ended up sitting — handcuffed — in his Parlin condo that September afternoon while investigators ransacked his closets? Detectives had dropped by to question him about the sports pool four months before that — back in May, he says — as part of a separate investigation into organized crime.
“Do you know this guy, this guy, this guy? Turns out — 18 months later I find out who these guys are when I get arrested — they were organized crime with Genovese family but I didn’t know any of the names,” he said.
Investigators charged Bovery with promoting gambling and drained his pool: confiscated every cent in the bank accounts, including more than $100,000 of Bovery’s own money. Several months later they also charged him with money laundering and he spent 25 days in jail before he could make bail.
“Whether or not the operation itself is something that should not have occurred because it’s not sanctioned is different than whether or not John committed any crimes, because as a manager of a pool, there was no precedent that anyone should be guilty of promoting gambling,” said Bovery’s Attorney Ralph Ferarra. “At one point when we were in court, the sheriff’s officers in Monmouth County came over and asked, ‘What’s going on here?’ because they were running their own pool.”
A spokesman for the prosecutors said, “We’re not gonna try this in the media. We’re gonna let the courts do their job.”
Bovery finally decided to speak out because — four and a half years later — he still hasn’t gone to trial. With two felony indictments, he can’t get a job.
“If I did something wrong, it shouldn’t take four and a half years to figure out how to punish me and let me move on with my life,” he said.
As March Madness progresses through brackets, Bovery is looking for a way out of the game — one that will get his players’ money refunded and let him break even.