Professional gambling defendants plead guilty

Four of five defendants arrested in a sting operation involving professional gambling based out of two Columbus grocery stores have pleaded guilty.

The fifth defendant, Mauricio Nolasco-Vazquez, 55, Indianapolis, has received a continuance in Bartholomew Circuit Court on charges of felony corrupt business influence, felony professional gambling and felony promoting professional gambling, court records state. Nolasco-Vazquez’ trial date has been set for Dec. 13.

The four defendants who entered into plea bargains are scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 3 in Bartholomew Circuit Court.

Plea bargains for Oswaldo Martinez-Ramirez, 32, 2554 Sycamore St., Columbus; Florencio Roblero Aguilar, 37, Indianapolis; Manuel Villalbazo, 49, 1902 Indiana Ave., Columbus, call for them to be sentenced for felony promoting professional gambling as a Class A misdemeanor, if each has no previous criminal convictions. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.

Jessica Hernandez-Cruz, 35, 2719 Tyler Drive, pleaded guilty to Class B misdemeanor unlawful gambling, which carries a potential penalty of up to 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

The four defendants would agree to make restitution, after which other multiple professional gambling counts pending against them would be dismissed.

The sting operation, conducted by the Indiana Gaming Commission, began in January after commission investigators began looking into professional gambling on Mexican soccer team games in Columbus, with bets being made at two Mexican grocery stores. Those who gambled on the games were offered chances to win up to $5,000 on a $10 wager on the games, court records indicated.

Undercover commission representatives made repeated wagers at La Guanajuato at 2361 S. Henry Lakes Boulevard, and Mi Tierra, 1461 Central Ave., before search warrants were issued April 29, resulting in several of the arrests.

In an earlier interview, Villalbazo said he did not know sports betting was illegal in Indiana.

All five of the defendants were released from the Bartholomew County Jail after their arrest and have been free on bonds ranging from $30,000 to $50,000.

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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.