Gambling suspects face jury trials

Trial dates have been set for five people accused of participating in gambling activities involving Mexican soccer team games.

All five defendants used an interpreter during initial hearings Thursday before Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Stephen Heimann, who set their jury trial dates for Oct. 18. Each defendant’s hearing date for a potential change of plea was set for Sept. 30.

The five were arrested April 29 after search warrants were issued and served at Mi Tierra, 1461 Central Ave., and La Guanajuato, 2361 S. Henry Lakes Blvd. Suite A, two Columbus grocery stores where several of the defendants worked, court records said.

The defendants and their charges include:

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Mauricio Nolasco-Vazquez, 55, Indianapolis, charged with felony corrupt business influence and felony professional gambling and promoting professional gambling.

Oswaldo Martinez-Ramirez, 31, 2554 Sycamore St., Columbus, felony professional gambling and promoting professional gambling.

Jessica Hernandez-Cruz, 34, 2719 Tyler Drive, Columbus, felony professional gambling and promoting professional gambling.

Florencio Roblero-Aguilar, 37, Indianapolis, felony professional gambling and promoting professional gambling.

Manuel Villalbazo, 48, 1902 Indiana Ave., Columbus, felony professional gambling and promoting professional gambling.

All five were released from the Bartholomew County Jail on bonds ranging from $30,000 to $50,000. A warrant has been issued for a sixth suspect, an unnamed Columbus resident, who remains at large.

During Thursday’s court hearing, Heimann asked each defendant whether they were a U.S. citizen and for their Social Security numbers.

Only Nolasco-Vazquez provided a Social Security number, with the others saying through an interpreter they did not have one.

All the defendants told the judge they were not U.S. citizens and their home country was Mexico, with Nolasco-Vazquez telling the court he was a resident of the United States. The defendants also told the judge they had limited English-speaking skills.

Through an interpreter in an earlier telephone interview, Villalbazo said he did not know sports betting was illegal in Indiana. Villalbazo, identified as manager of Mi Tierra, said he was not a part of the activities, but other employees were involved.

The gambling investigation began in January when an Indiana Gaming Commission investigator went into the La Guanajuato grocery store, court documents said. The investigator saw a poster on the front door inviting customers to participate in “Quiniela,” a term for sports betting, court documents said. Customers could make a $10 wager and win up to $5,000, court documents stated.

Commission undercover officers made several wagers at Mi Tierra and La Guanajuato through April, when the arrests were made, according to probable-cause affidavits filed with the court.

The investigation, which included search warrants served in Columbus and Indianapolis, began as a result of an anonymous tip, said Jenny Reske, gaming commission spokeswoman.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.