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Drexel trio catches prosecutor’s barbs

Nov 19, 2002 7:18 AM

   Judges are the beautiful butterflies that some lawyers turn into after their ugly caterpillar days. Others become U.S. attorneys.

   Either way, glibness is what makes their wings glisten, and one of the glibbest turned up in White Plains, NY, last week when the Drexel Boys surrendered to the FBI.

   The script involves three 29-year-old computer whizzes, former fraternity brothers at Drexel university in Philadelphia, who won $3 million on an $1,152 investment in a national pool called the Breeders’ Cup Ultra Pick Six. Except they didn’t get the money. You undoubtedly read the story, or saw it on television, unless you’ve been on a polar expedition.

   The U.S. attorney handling the case after the three turned themselves into the FBI — two of them showing up positive for cocaine at their surrender — is James B Comey. He is the bar’s best bon mot man in years.

   When a reporter asked Comey if the story unfolding before him was material for a Hollywood movie, he fired back, “It’s been made already, except with much better-looking guys.” He was referring, of course, to The Sting of 1973, in which Paul Newman and Robert Redford starred.

   The present case, at last reading, showed seven and one-half pounds of paper from print coverage alone, a 7.5 on the Richter scale of reporting.

   What is involved is a scheme that would have escaped detection if a horse named Volponi had not won the sixth race of a bet called the Ultra Pick Six at Arlington Park in suburban Chicago a few Saturdays back.

   The Pick Six, as the name implies, is a bet in which the horseplayer has to select six winners in six races. Those picking all six share the pool, which in this case amounted to more than $3 million, and there was only one man in America who had all six.

   His name is Derrick Davis, and he works with computers for a living. Or did. His vocation may turn into a vacation of up to five years, if the feds prove their case against him. The government — and virtually everyone else in horse racing — believes he had two accomplices in the grand scheme, one of them an insider named Glen Harn, who was a senior computer programmer for Autotote, the company that handled the far-flung bets on this national Pick Six. The other fraternity brother involved is Glen DaSilva, a denizen of Manhattan, also a Drexel fraternity brother.

   Few in racing knew it, but the mechanics of the Pick Six were that all of the money bet around the country at simulcasting outlets was transferred immediately to Arlington Park, but the names of the first four winning horses were not transmitted until after the fifth leg of the Pick Six. Mr. Harn, Autotote’s “rogue computer programmer,” had access to the codes and entrée to the inner workings of the central computer, and the government says he simply changed the first four numbers of a bet that Derrick Davis placed at an OTB outlet in the Catskills in New York to conform to the actual winners. The bet was highly unusual by wagering standards, since its configuration was four “single” numbers and then All-All, meaning that no matter who won the last two races, Davis was a winner if he had the first four winners right. If Harn entered them at the computer source after the races were over the Drexel boys were home free. And they almost were, except that Volponi won at 43-to-1 in the final race of the Pick Six. Davis had him, of course, because of his All bet on that race combined with the re-engineered first four numbers that made him the only man in America with all six right.

   The third fraternity brother, DaSilva, apparently had rehearsed the scheme in previous weeks with a Pick Four at Balmoral Park near Chicago and a Pick Six at Belmont Park in New York, winning both, the New York bet paying $130,000. Then the three conspirators, it is charged, went for the national Pick Six with Harn adjusting the numbers.

   This is nice work if you can get it. U.S. Attorney Comey, not missing a punch line, had the final word. “They bet law enforcement would not catch them, but that’s a bet they couldn’t fix.”