Gambling defendant receives sentence

A Marion County resident who admitted to running an illegal gambling operation in Columbus won’t be going to prison, but now may be at risk of being deported.

Mauricio Nolasco-Vazquez, 55, Indianapolis, received a one year suspended sentence Thursday from Senior Judge Kim Van Valer. The former Johnson County Superior Court 3 judge presided in place of Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Stephen Heimann, who retired at the end of the year.

Nolasco-Vazquez, who is from Mexico, was one of five people arrested April 29 in a sting operation by the Indiana Gaming Commission. The investigation, which began in January in Columbus, uncovered professional wagering on Mexican soccer team games.

Undercover commission representatives made repeated wagers at two local grocery stores — La Guanajuato at 2361 S. Henry Lakes Blvd., and Mi Tierra, 1461 Central Ave. — before search warrants were issued April 29, resulting in five arrests.

Four other defendants entered into plea bargain agreements in November, and pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. Each was sentenced to pay fines and placed on probation during their sentencing hearings.

On Dec. 5, Nolasco-Vazquez also accepted a plea bargain by pleading guilty to one count of professional gambling as a Level 6 felony.

During his sentencing, Nolasco-Vazquez was ordered to reimburse the Indiana Gaming Commission $450 for the buy money used in the investigation.

In exchange, the prosecution agreed to drop two other charges — corrupt business influence as a Level 5 felony and promoting professional gambling as a Level 6 felony.

But the judge refused to lower the felony conviction down to a misdemeanor, nor lower the sentence from the one-year advisory term for a Level 6 felony.

Her decision means the U.S. Department of Immigration could consider initiating deportation proceedings against Nolasco-Vazquez, whose immigration status is legal permanent resident.

Citing factors such as a lack of a criminal record and a dependent child at home, defense attorney Karen Huelskamp requested a sentence that would not place the defendant’s residency at risk.

In response, deputy prosecutor Mary Wertz said Nolasco-Vazquez was still refusing to admit he profited from the illegal operation, even though he had told investigators that gambling administrators like himself kept about 20 percent of all profits.

In addition, there also is evidence that Nolasco-Vazquez collaborated with his wife of 31 years to operate a similar gambling operation in Marion County, Wertz said.

The wife has already been found guilty of similar gambling charges in an Indianapolis courtroom, Huelskamp told the judge.

“There is no evidence to either raise or reduce the sentence,” Van Valer told the defendant through a Spanish-speaking interpreter. “You’ll have to make an argument about your visa (with immigration officials), but you’ll have to do it with the crime you committed.”

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.