Alcohol License Applicant ‘Mastermind’ Arrested by Feds in USD Basketball Fix

April 16, 2011 2 Comments

A Pacific Beach alcohol licensee was approved to continue operations in PB and also recently applied to sell full-spirits in his convenience store? Well, that was before he was arrested by the FBI last week in a major sting. Richard F. Garmo is the Vice President of this business doing business as Qwik Korner in the 1000 block of Garnet.

Please Note: An indictment itself is not evidence that the defendants committed the crimes charged. The defendants are presumed innocent until the government meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Checkpoint stop in 2008 tied to USD bribery case

SAN DIEGO — A suitcase stuffed with $104,900 in cash, a baggie of pot and driving directions to Humboldt County.

That’s what Border Patrol agents found in a car at the Interstate 5 checkpoint in San Clemente on Jan. 28, 2008. It’s also the evidence that led to what federal authorities listed as the first “overt act” in an indictment made public last week that charges 10 people of conspiring to fix University of San Diego basketball games, running an illegal bookmaking scheme and dealing marijuana.

Steve Goria, one of the three alleged money men behind the bribery operation, was the driver of that suspicious car. He told the agents he was headed to Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend and to pay off gambling debts. Prosecutors say he was going to Eureka to pay for a load of marijuana.

Federal authorities didn’t charge Goria then, but the Chula Vista man was on their radar.

What started as a drug trafficking investigation took an unexpected twist as federal investigators discovered an operation that used proceeds from marijuana sales and illegal sports betting to bribe college players — including USD’s all-time leading scorer Brandon Johnson, authorities said. Bets would then be placed on the allegedly fixed games at Las Vegas casinos and off-shore betting sites.

The six-page federal indictment does not provide details about the alleged 2008 drug deal, other than to state Goria “transported $100,000 to purchase marijuana.” But separate federal court records uncovered by The San Diego Union-Tribune reveal what led to the government’s suspicions and how Goria and co-defendant Richard Garmo waged a legal battle with the government in an effort to get their seized money back.

The stop

According to the documents filed in 2008, Goria was stopped as he drove through the I-5 checkpoint in San Clemente. In the passenger seat was Charles Gilbert Couri, whom Goria had met through Paul Thweni, one of the 10 recently indicted.

A Border Patrol agent asked about their citizenship and reported smelling the odor of marijuana coming from the open window of their Toyota Camry, the records state.

In the trunk, agents found $104,900 in $100 bills in a small suitcase. Goria said about $44,000 of it was his. Of that amount, about $20,000 was a loan from his sister, Lilian, and about $23,000 was from winnings at Sycuan Casino, he said. He claimed to have earned the rest through “real estate mortgage transactions.”

The remaining $60,000 in the suitcase belonged to Garmo, a “cousin,” Goria said. Goria later told officials that Garmo was in fact a longtime friend of at least 10 years.

Goria told the agents that he had no documentation to prove the money was theirs.

A small amount of marijuana was also found in the car and a baggie of “high-quality buds” in Couri’s pocket, the court records state.

Goria refused to speak with agents without a lawyer present, but then made comments that he and Couri were bound for Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend, and that the money was to be used to pay off “markers” from gambling at casinos there.

Agents also found $1,890 in Goria’s pocket, and about $5,000 in Couri’s pocket. The pair described that stash of cash as “spending money.”

But federal authorities suspected the duo was instead headed to Humboldt County to pick up a load of marijuana. In the car, an agent found driving directions to Eureka, an area known for producing quality marijuana. Text messages on Couri’s cell phone to a woman in Humboldt were identified by agents as coded negotiations for a pot deal, according to the records.

Who gets the cash

Goria and Garmo later asked for their money back when the government began civil asset forfeiture proceedings. Couri did not get involved. (He is not implicated in the sports bribery scheme.)

The parties came to a settlement in October 2009, agreeing that Goria would get to keep his $1,890 pocket money, and the pair would get back about $26,000. The government would keep the rest.

Details about what led to the settlement were not made public. The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment last week about the seizure. Goria’s attorney for the forfeiture proceedings did not return calls for comment.

Michael Littman, a San Diego attorney specializing in asset forfeiture cases, said it is not uncommon for both sides to settle in these kinds of cases.

The government has the burden of proof, although the standard is lower than in criminal cases.

Driving around with large sums of cash is not illegal, Littman added, but can be seized if authorities have probable cause that it is linked to drug trafficking.

“Usually the stronger side gets more money,” Littman said.

Bribery case

Federal authorities have released few details about how they uncovered the bribery allegations while looking into marijuana trafficking, although the indictment lists several meetings and conversations between the 10 defendants discussing illegal activity.

The scandal has put USD in the national spotlight over the past week as fans, sports insiders and betting entities speculate about which Toreros games may have been thrown by Johnson, and if any other members of the team were involved.

Court records and other public documents reveal a cast of characters with criminal pasts, ties to the gambling industry and a string of money troubles.

Goria, 32, along with his cousin and roommate, Thweni, 26, and convenience store owner Garmo, 32, are the alleged masterminds behind the scheme, according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

The trio is accused of being involved in all aspects of the operation, from offering bribes to players, betting on games they believed to be fixed, dealing marijuana, running a bookmaking scheme and collecting gambling debts.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges the three got help in the bribery and bookmaking business from Goria’s sister, Lilian Goria, 38, and cousin Richard Thweni, 28.

USD’s connection

Johnson, who played this season for the Dakota Wizards of the NBA Development League, is accused of influencing the outcome of an unidentified game sometime in February 2010 and of soliciting another person to throw a USD game in January, nearly a year after he’d left the team, according to the indictment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Harold Chun has alleged that Steve Goria threatened an unnamed player he was trying to bribe to fix a game “in the past year.” It was unknown if that was the same player Johnson is accused of having approached.

The mention of the unnamed player and the possibility that he didn’t go along with the scheme has triggered speculation from attorneys and insiders that a member of USD’s basketball team was aiding government investigators in some capacity. Federal authorities have declined to comment.

Another former player, Brandon Dowdy, 22, and a former USD assistant coach, Thaddeus “TJ” Brown, 32, are also implicated.

A 34-year-old homeless documented gang member with a history of drug abuse, David Gates, is accused of collecting debts for the bookmaking operation.

Jake Salter, 23, is the alleged drug contact in Northern California.

If convicted, each of the 10 charged faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The 10 indicted

Richard Thweni, aka ‘Reggie’ or ‘Slick Rick’

28, El Cajon

A Monte Vista High alum, his relationship status is “single” on his Facebook page, and his friends include Steve Goria. Paul Thweni, one of the 10 defendants, is his brother.

Richard Thweni works at the Pacific Beach Qwik Korner store that Richard Garmo’s family has an ownership interest in, and attorneys said in court last week he makes about $2,000 a month.

Court records show Thweni had felony charges filed against him in 2001 and 2004. Attorneys also said he had to register with a directory for narcotics abusers, and part of the conditions of his bond release in this latest case is to submit to testing if requested.

Thaddeus “TJ” Brown

32, El Cajon

Brown’s basketball career at Texas A&M was curtailed by an Achilles tendon injury, and he transitioned to coaching at USD in 2003 — first as an unpaid manager and ultimately as the team’s No. 3 assistant coach for a season. He left the school after head coach Brad Holland was fired in 2007 and new coach Bill Grier brought in a new staff.

Brown went on to found the La Jolla Hoopers, a youth basketball program for boys and girls ages 10 to 14 that contracted fellow defendant Brandon Dowdy as a coach. Brown also served as a junior varsity (and varsity assistant) coach at La Jolla High.

Brown’s younger brother Danny played four seasons at USD, two under Holland and two under Grier.

Brown is married and his two children, and his attorney, Vikas Bajaj, describes him as a “hardworking family man … who a lot of people look up to.”

Brown has worked for seven years as a bouncer and manager for the company that owns several nightclubs in San Diego, including the Stingaree in the Gaslamp Quarter. Stingaree owner James Brennan, a USD alum, said last week Brown has been suspended indefinitely without pay.

Court records show Brown was arrested by the California Highway Patrol on Feb. 19, 2008, after an officer alleged he was driving the wrong way and had a blood-alcohol content of 0.26 — more than three times the legal limit of 0.08. He was charged with assaulting a CHP officer, DUI and driving with a blood-alcohol content of more than 0.15.

He pleaded to a misdemeanor DUI and was sentenced to four days in jail, $1,912 in fines, probation and a first-conviction program.

Brandon Lamar Dowdy

22, San Diego

Former USD coach Brad Holland recruited Dowdy out of East Valley High in Redlands, where he averaged 19.7 points as a senior. He played sparingly as a freshman at USD, appearing in 13 games and never scoring more than two points, and transferred to UC Riverside after one season.

After sitting out a year per NCAA transfer regulations, Dowdy played two seasons and eventually broke into the Highlanders’ starting lineup. He did not return to UCR for his final season of eligibility in 2010-11, instead moving to San Diego.

He coached at the La Jolla Hoopers, a youth basketball club founded by fellow defendant TJ Brown. He also recently began working as a part-time bouncer at downtown nightclub Stingaree, where attorneys last week said he made about $1,200 monthly.

The Stingaree has since terminated him, saying Dowdy was within his 30-day probationary period.

Richard Garmo, aka ‘Dick’ or ‘Bird’

42, El Cajon

He has known Steve Goria for at least 10 years. Goria’s sister, Lilian, is a Facebook friend, according to Garmo’s profile. He lists Rancho San Diego as his hometown on the website.

He and his wife, Stephanie, filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 31, 2009, listing $2 million in assets and $2.9 million in liabilities, court records show. He said he owed $75,000 in state taxes and had a $24,000 balance on his Discover credit card.

He is a noted poker player, winning $33,770 in a world championship tournament, according to a poker website.

Court filings show he has had ownership stakes in convenience stores in Brawley and Pacific Beach.

Last year, a business owner near the Pacific Beach Qwik Korner on Garnet Avenue that Garmo and his family have operated since 1992, told a neighborhood planning group that patrons “retreat to secluded spots on property and drink, trash area, do graffiti, urinate and defecate. Need to make sure that this is not allowed to continue, need conditions on the license to address these problems.”

David Gates, aka ‘Guyline’ or ‘Big Dave’


He starred in football and wrestling at Morse High School, where he was known as “Big Man.” A star offensive and defensive lineman in football at 6 feet 2 inches, 285 pounds, he helped Morse win the San Diego Section Division I football title as a senior in 1994, celebrating after the championship game with a back flip.

He was named county defensive player of the year and signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Colorado.

He didn’t qualify academically and played one season at Bakersfield Community College and one season at Southwestern College. In 2001 he played semi-pro ball for the San Diego Saints.

His athletic career has been punctuated by a history of drug abuse. Prosecutors describe him as a documented gang member and homeless.

He was convicted of possession of marijuana for sale after a 2003 arrest. A San Diego police officer smelled a strong odor coming out his parked red Nissan that year and found “a brick of marijuana,” an electric digital scale and a “pay-and-owe list” — all evidence of drug dealing, court records show.

He was sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years’ probation.

In 1999, he pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine for personal use. He was sentenced to 80 days in jail and a substance abuse program.

The bribery case indictment alleges Gates helped collect gambling debts.

Lilian Goria

38, El Cajon

Her brother, Steve Goria, and Garmo are friends on her Facebook page. Her profile also lists that she graduated from El Cajon Valley High School.

She was a cashier at Sycuan Casino when then-manager Mark Jones saw promise in her. He trained Goria as a dealer, and she later went on to become a floor manager at Harrah’s Rincon Casino, Jones said last week.

“She’s a very smart girl,” said Jones, owner of Innovations in Native American Gaming. “Very, very sharp. … She’d walk into a casino and meet managers, and they’d instantly like her.”

Jones later hired her as an independent contractor to help place his company’s table games at local casinos. In court last week, attorneys said she makes about $1,000 a month but currently has “expenses exceeding her income.”

Jones said, “She is very heavily influenced by her brother. The bottom line is Lilian would do anything for her little brother, no matter what he needs, she’d do for him.”

Steve Warda Goria, aka ‘Shazy’

32, Chula Vista

A former Cuyamaca College student, he works in auto detailing and breeds French bulldogs.

His attorney, Michael Berg, said Goria is single and attends the Church of St. Luke in El Cajon. His Facebook profile, which lists his alma mater as Valhalla High School in the East County, includes as friends co-defendants Richard Thweni and sister Lilian Goria. He lives in Chula Vista with Paul Thweni, his cousin.

He was arrested Monday after a two-hour standoff with SWAT officers outside a Serra Mesa home. Goria was denied bail last week after prosecutors alleged he had offered a bribe this past year to a college basketball player to fix a game and threatened the player if he took the money and didn’t come through. They also said he had guns at his house and officers had found 10 to 15 pounds of pot belonging to him.

Court records show Goria filed for bankruptcy in July 2009 in San Diego and listed himself as unemployed with $10,000 in assets and $240,000 in liabilities after foreclosing on his mortgage in 2006. He listed having $33 in cash on hand.

The District Attorney’s Office in Clark County, Nev., said Goria bounced $10,000 in checks to the Palms Casino and $5,000 to the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas in 2007. He was charged as a fugitive when he didn’t appear in court for the unpaid debts, but the case was dropped after he made restitution.

In Riverside County, court records show he was arrested in 2000 for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana and failed to appear in court on the case.

Brandon Johnson

24, Houston

He finished his career as USD’s all-time leading scorer, passing Gyno Pomare to move into first place on the career scoring list in February 2010 — the same month the indictment alleges he “influenced the outcome of a USD basketball game for a monetary bribe.”

Johnson’s original senior season, in 2008-09, ended after eight games when he tore his Achilles tendon late in the first half against SDSU. USD successfully petitioned the NCAA for a medical waiver granting him an extra year of eligibility, allowing him to play the 2009-10 season.

His career was rocky — particularly after coach Bill Grier replaced Brad Holland, who had recruited Johnson. Grier suspended Johnson several times for undisclosed reasons.

When he graduated last year from USD, he became the first person in his family to obtain a college degree.

“To graduate and have a degree from here is huge,” Johnson said the day before his final USD home game in 2010. “Now I have a Plan B and C (for the future). When I first came here, all I had was Plan A.”

Johnson spent the past season playing for the Dakota Wizards of the NBA Development League, where the maximum annual salary is about $25,000. Johnson played 25 games, missing the middle two months of the season after being temporarily waived due to injury.

Johnson was arrested in Jersey Village near Houston on April 9 and is due to appear in San Diego federal court on Friday.

Jake Salter

23, Garberville

He attended Col-lege of the Redwoods from 2005 to 2007 and was pursuing a criminal justice degree, according to his MySpace account.

Salter, who surrendered to authorities in San Diego on Friday, is the alleged drug contact in Humboldt County, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors say he transported about $20,000 in proceeds from the sale of marijuana on Nov. 9, 2010. On Feb. 9, he is accused of selling marijuana to Steve Goria and Paul Thweni.

Paul Joseph Thweni, aka ‘Weenie’

26, Chula Vista

He and Steve Goria are roommates.

Court and public records show Thweni was president of Red I Tobacco, a Chula Vista store that had financial problems and went out of business. He faced eviction from that business property in 2008.

His co-defendant, Richard Garmo, served as the registered agent for the business, the records show.

Prosecutors last week described him as a professional poker player. They initially requested Thweni be denied bail as a flight risk, but agreed on Friday to a $60,000 bond with numerous conditions, including wearing a GPS monitoring device and travel restrictions.


Related Stories

PRESS RELEASE: University of San Diego Assistant Basketball Coach, Two Former Players Among Those Charged in Bribery, Illegal Bookmaking, and Drug Distribution Conspiracy

For Immediate Release
April 11, 2011

United States Attorney’s Office
Southern District of California
Contact: (619) 557-5610

University of San Diego Assistant Basketball Coach, Two Former Players Among Those Charged in Bribery, Illegal Bookmaking, and Drug Distribution Conspiracy

United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced the unsealing today of a one-count indictment charging 10 defendants with conspiracy to commit sports bribery, to operate an illegal sports bookmaking service, and to distribute marijuana. The indictment alleges that the defendants enriched themselves by operating an illegal sports bookmaking business and distributing marijuana, and with their criminal proceeds, conspired to bribe National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I college basketball players to alter the outcome of games so that the defendants could profit by betting on the games at Las Vegas, Nevada casinos.

A federal grand jury sitting in San Diego handed up the indictment on April 8, 2011. The defendants include a former assistant coach at the University of San Diego (USD), and two former college basketball players, including Brandon Johnson. The indictment alleges that Johnson, while he was playing for USD, took a bribe to influence the result of a game in February 2010. It is further alleged that in January 2011, Johnson solicited an individual to affect the outcome of USD basketball games.

Thaddeus Brown and Brandon Dowdy are also charged in the indictment. Brown is a former assistant USD basketball coach, having coached during the 2006-2007 season. Dowdy played at USD during the 2006 2007 season, and then later played at the University of California Riverside from 2008-2010. The indictment alleges that in February 2011, Brown and Dowdy solicited an individual to affect the outcome of a college basketball game at UCR.

According to court documents, Steve Warda Goria, Paul Joseph Thweni, and Richard Garmo, residents of San Diego County, orchestrated multiple criminal schemes, including the sports bribery scheme involving Johnson, Brown, and Dowdy. The indictment further alleges that others charged assisted Goria, Thweni, and Garmo by managing sports books, collecting outstanding gambling debt, and distributing marijuana. The profits gained from these criminal activities financed the college basketball bribery scheme.

United States Attorney Duffy said, “The drug trafficking and sports betting charged in this case were organized and substantial and reflect diversification of criminality that we will not tolerate. Whether in the area of politics, law, or sports, the phrase “the fix was in” sends chills down the spine of all Americans. Our country is rooted in, and values, fair competition and success based on hard work and self-sacrifice. Tampering with sporting events strikes at the integrity of the games; this kind of betrayal is not merely disappointing—it is criminal and worthy of prosecution.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Keith Slotter commented, “The FBI aggressively pursues all areas of organized crime. The sporting industry in the United States is a multi-billion-dollar a year business. If games are thrown by a small number of greedy individuals who are only hoping to line their own pockets, the entire industry can suffer if the populace believes games are fixed. Therefore, the FBI will continue to pursue those who engage in this type of criminal activity.”

Agents from the FBI arrested Brandon Johnson in Houston, Texas on April 9, 2011. He is expected to make an initial appearance before a Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of Texas. The defendants arrested in San Diego should be arraigned in federal court in San Diego on April 12, 2011, before United States Magistrate Judge Louisa S. Porter.

Defendants, Criminal Case No. 11CR1345AJB

Steve Warda Goria Age: 32 Chula Vista, CA
Paul Joseph Thweni Age: 26 Chula Vista, CA
Richard Francis Garmo Age: 32 El Cajon, CA
Thaddeus James Brown Age: 32 El Cajon, CA
Brandon Johnson Age: 24 Houston, TX
Richard Thweni Age: 28 El Cajon, CA
David Gates Age: 34 Unknown
Lilian Goria Age: 38 El Cajon, CA
Brandon Lamar Dowdy Age: 22 San Diego, CA
Jake Salter Age: 23 Garberville, CA

Summary of Charges

Count 1: Conspiracy to Commit Sports Bribery, Conduct an Illegal Gambling Business, and Distribute Marijuana – Title 18, United States Code, Section 371 Maximum penalties: five years in prison and $250,000 fine

Investigating Agency

Federal Bureau of Investigation

An indictment itself is not evidence that the defendants committed the crimes charged. The defendants are presumed innocent until the government meets its burden in court of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Liquor Stores, MM, PB in National Media
2 Comments to “Alcohol License Applicant ‘Mastermind’ Arrested by Feds in USD Basketball Fix”
  1. pbSpirits says:

    Thanks! This was a copy of what was printed in the San Diego Union Tribune.

  2. Johnny says:

    You have the wrong Garmo. The one that was indicated is 32…not 42.

Leave a Reply

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