Unusual Suspect: The Rise and Fall of Owen Hanson, Former USC Athlete and Alleged Drug Kingpin
In a decade, Owen Hanson went from playing football and volleyball at USC to being the subject of a major FBI investigation into drug-trafficking, money-laundering, and illegal gambling.
Illustration by Kolin Pope
Owen Hanson woke up in his own bed for the last time on September 9, 2015. He had a 7:20 tee time that morning in Carlsbad, a San Diego suburb about a hundred miles south of his Beverly Hills home, and he was running late. He threw his clubs in the back of his Porsche, pulled onto the 405, and tore out at 100 miles per hour to beat the traffic.
Hanson was 33 years old, with a beautiful wife, numerous apparently successful business ventures, a good relationship with his family, and strong ties to Redondo Beach, the insular coastal community where he grew up. He graduated from the University of Southern California, where he had been an outside hitter on the volleyball team and a walk-on tight end during the Pete Carroll glory years. He was charming, with a big smile, and well-spoken in the kind of way that put you at ease instead of intimidating you. He was a high roller in Las Vegas and well connected in Los Angeles. He was tall and fit, and his portfolio was diversified.
But Hanson had a bad feeling driving down to Carlsbad that morning. He was meeting a man named Al Wilson. He and Wilson had been seeing a lot of each other over the past few months. They played golf at expensive courses for high stakes. Wilson once invited him to Miami to check out his cigarette boat. He took Hanson and his wife, Crista, out to thousand-dollar dinners—and then tipped fifty percent.
Hanson and Wilson were business associates, and they were becoming friends. But something was off about it. When Hanson pulled into the country club's parking lot that morning, he saw that it was totally empty. That seemed wrong to him—7:20 wasn't even the first tee time of the day. But then again, Hanson thought, maybe I'm being paranoid. After all, I'm a little early.
Hanson drove out of the lot and picked up breakfast at McDonald's and thought things over. Maybe this was it. Maybe he shouldn't drive back to the club at all. Maybe he should just get back on the freeway and keep heading south—drive down to Mexico, cross the border, and never look back. He had resources down there. Crista's family was there. He was building a house in Cabo San Lucas. Then his cell phone rang. I'm in the clubhouse getting ready, Wilson said. Where are you?
Hanson drove back to the course. This time there was a single vehicle in the parking lot: a giant F-350 pickup. You don't see trucks like that in the parking lots of country clubs, Hanson thought. When the attendant came to take his golf clubs, Hanson asked him about the truck. Was it the gardener or something? What was going on?
The attendant said he didn't know, took the clubs, and walked away. That's when Hanson saw the helicopter overhead. Federal agents began emerging from the trees with their guns drawn. It was like watching a movie, Hanson recalls, only he was in it. They were all there for him. Thirty agents, it must have been. He saw them lead Wilson out of the clubhouse in cuffs, too. "Don't talk to him!" they were yelling.
Hanson was placed in an SUV and driven to an office somewhere nearby. Two men in the front seat, and one in the back with him. The guy riding shotgun didn't say a word the whole time. Only when they got into an interrogation room did he finally introduce himself. He was with the New South Wales Police. Here from Sydney, Australia.
The moment Hanson heard the Australian accent, he knew he really was in trouble.
Hanson has now been in federal custody for more than a year. Initially, he was arrested on drug charges, but a few months later the charges against him were expanded as the FBI made another sweep of arrests. In total, 22 people were accused of being members of what the U.S. Attorney's Office deemed a "sophisticated international criminal enterprise" called ODOG.
Hanson, who sometimes went by the nickname O-Dog, was the alleged ringleader. The full charges against him include conspiracy to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to distribute narcotics, RICO conspiracy, running an illegal gambling business, and money-laundering conspiracy. In a recent hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Young alleged that Hanson trafficked more than a ton of cocaine.
He faces up to life in prison in the United States, as well as possible extradition to face charges in Australia. Among the alleged co-conspirators listed in the ODOG indictment are a former NFL running back, a beachfront restaurant owner, a down-on-his-luck Hollywood private investigator, a San Diego accountant, a general contractor who had once managed a famous African musician, an American expat in Peru, and a career criminal known as Tank.
"It sounds like a good crime novel," Hanson's former defense attorney Russell Babcock said in court last year.
In a decade, Owen Hanson went from being an upper-middle-class kid from Redondo Beach to the subject of a major FBI investigation. To the outside world, he presented the image of a successful real-estate developer, but he was also a person so feared by his debtors that they refused to call the police on him even as their lives crumbled. Many of those still fear him, even as he sits in a prison cell.
The full accounting of Hanson's criminal rise and fall—which includes, among other details, a lucha libre mask, a suitcase full of cash hidden in the ceiling of an apartment in Australia, and a man who calls himself Robin Hood 702—has yet to play out in court. But through publicly available court records and interviews with Hanson and people who have known him, it's possible to piece together a story that does justice to his former attorney's statement. Owen Hanson's life would make a good crime novel—which makes it even harder to believe that it's all real.
Here's how Owen Hanson's football career started: Toward the end of his sophomore year at USC, Hanson was in the weight room with some of his volleyball teammates when a football assistant walked by. That particular day, as the football assistant stood and watched, Hanson benched 25 reps of 225 pounds—three more reps than his future teammate Clay Matthews would put up at the 2009 NFL combine. Afterward, the assistant approached Hanson and asked if he would consider trying out for football.
At the time, USC football was on its meteoric rise under Pete Carroll. Six months earlier, Carson Palmer had led the Trojans to victory in the Orange Bowl and the team's first top-five finish since 1978. In a city where there hadn't been pro football for more than a decade, USC was quickly becoming a glamour franchise. Hanson saw all this. Even though he had never played football in his life, he decided to take the coach up on his offer. He ran a 4.6 second 40-yard dash in his tryout, and posted a 35-inch vertical leap. He made the team as a walk-on.
And that was a microcosm of Owen Hanson's life. One friend, a high school volleyball teammate who asked not to be identified, described Hanson's life as "surreal."
"We pretty much grew up at the beach," he said. "I don't mean figuratively." He meant skating and surfing and playing volleyball. Partying a little as they got older.
"We didn't have a lot of adversity we didn't create for ourselves."
Hanson's parents split up when he was eight years old. He grew up with his dad, Jim, on a quiet street. Jim Hanson worked for 35 years as a contractor with one of LA's biggest real-estate developers; he and his brother—Hanson's uncle—were fixtures in the Redondo Beach volleyball scene. Hanson followed in their footsteps.
As a teenager, Hanson won a junior national beach volleyball tournament. The local paper, the Daily Breeze, named him their men's volleyball player of the year at Redondo Union High School. Girls liked Hanson. Guys liked Hanson. "He was buff and he was fast and he was athletic," said his high school volleyball coach Tommy Chaffins. He even got good grades, Chaffins said.
Former teammates recall Hanson walking around campus shirtless on volleyball game days, flashing a toothy smile around at everybody. "Between tenth and eleventh grade, Owen Hanson went from a tall skinny kid to looking like a WWE wrestler," one classmate said.
At USC, Hanson was a reserve on the volleyball team. He also joined a fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. The frat disbanded in 2003, his junior year, after repeated disagreements with campus officials about the maintenance of their house. Many of the members moved to a nearby apartment complex and formed a group called Stumpo's Raiders.
"Too much booze, cocaine, partying as a fraternity," Hanson wrote to me from prison about his Greek experience.
Hanson may have been a big partier in college (and after), but according to people who knew him, he never gave off the impression of being violent in those days. One friend told me he was surprised Hanson tried out for football, because he didn't think the sport was suited to Hanson's personality.
"He was just a happy-go-lucky guy," a USC classmate told me. "Nice guy. Not violent at all to my knowledge. More of like a fun guy who lifted weights and had tattoos and eventually had his tattoos taken off."
Those tattoos appeared after Hanson joined the football team: the LA skyline, angels and devils, the words "SOUTH BAY" down the middle of his back. Friends from back in Redondo Beach say that once Hanson got to USC, he didn't stay in touch as much as he used to, and started running with a different crowd.
Hanson told me he began to use steroids early in college, and that he was juiced when the football coach saw him that day in the weight room. After he made the football team, he timed his steroid use for summers, when the NCAA wasn't testing.
Even now, more than a decade later, Hanson remains a proud Trojan. Earlier this year, I wrote to him at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego, the federal facility where he awaits trial. He responded very promptly with an email via Corrlinks—a monitored messaging program used by federal inmates. He signed his message:
#80 USC FOOTBALL
#13 USC VOLLEYBALL
The visiting rooms at MCC San Diego are narrow and bleak. Visitors wait, sometimes for hours, in a park across from the prison for their turn to file in, ride the elevator up to their floor, and spend an hour with a loved one. They pull their chairs close without making physical contact. On the tenth floor, where Hanson is housed, there are eight chairs and a couple tables that nobody uses pushed up against a wall. A poster hanging next to the clock encourages inmates to be active fathers. Hanson's own father, Jim, visits him often. So do his mom, his wife, his sister, even the occasional USC teammate.
In his khaki prison uniform, Hanson practically swallows up the chair beneath him. He isn't tight-end-sized anymore, but he's still big, with big, expressive features. His hair is gelled and parted. He wears black and white Nikes. The first time I met him, he complained that he'd lost his tan because he gets only one hour outside per week. He's an orderly on his floor, a status that allows him to joke around with guards a little bit. It also gives him relatively free access to Corrlinks, the messaging system.
In our correspondence and in-person conversations, Hanson was open to discussing aspects of his life that didn't involve the charges he was facing. He was happy, for example, to tell stories about playing volleyball or trying to tackle Reggie Bush in practice. I couldn't bring a recording device, or even pen and paper, into MCC San Diego, which is why I do not quote at length from our conversations in this story.
Our visits mainly left me with an impression of Hanson as being an easy person to get along with—the kind of person you like, even when you think he might be bullshitting you. It was easy to picture him as a great salesman—of real estate, of a sportsbook, of drugs...of anything, really.
After college, Hanson followed his father into the development business. He got his real-estate license in 2006, when he was 24, and set about selling homes in the South Bay, where he grew up. To build his brand, Hanson turned to a web designer named Jeremy Broekman, who became a friend. When I asked Broekman what he could recall about Hanson in those days, he settled on a message Hanson had him include at the bottom of each page of that first site. The title of the message was "Helping You Conquer the American Dream":
I don't play the lottery. I don't have the winning ticket. Everything I have I busted my butt for. The only thing I ever got handed to me are the genetics that my old man passed down. From him I learned the value of a hard work ethic and getting your hands dirty. To those who have always wanted more, stand with me. We are few. We must stand on the mountaintops to be heard.
Broekman described Hanson as an "upwardly mobile yuppie type." Hanson took care of the people in his life, and he liked to enjoy the fruits of his labor, Broekman said. He was fun to be around and easy to work for. One time, Hanson paid for Broekman to set up a website for his sister's dog-walking business, but didn't want her to find out that he had been the one behind it.
The website Broekman built for Hanson, OwenSells.com, featured images of Hanson in a suit superimposed over the New York skyline (even though he lived and worked in Los Angeles). There were photos of Hanson with USC teammates, with President George W. Bush during the national championship USC team's White House visit, with Paris Hilton, with Tommy Lasorda. There was even music that automatically played once the page loaded: "Push it to the Limit," the synth-heavy pop song that was written for the movie Scarface and plays during the famous montage of Al Pacino living the high life as a cocaine dealer.
It all played into the man-about-town persona Hanson was cultivating now that he was out of college—a successful entrepreneur simultaneously living hard and living well.
Then 2008 happened, and the bottom fell out of the real-estate market. Hanson found himself strapped for cash. People weren't buying houses, not even the luxury homes he was selling. It was around this time that Hanson became affiliated with an outfit called Macho Sports. In many ways, Macho Sports was a precursor to the ODOG enterprise: a massive offshore sports-betting operation based in Peru that was known among sports gamblers for paying out reliably and collecting debts aggressively—often violently, according to a criminal complaint filed against them in 2013.
Hanson got involved with Macho Sports through his father. Jim belonged to a fly-fishing club with an elementary school teacher who also happened to be an agent for Macho Sports. Hanson started betting with the teacher/agent, which eventually led to him becoming a protégé of Jan Portocarrero, who ran the operation with his brother Erik. (Macho Sports has since been broken up in a RICO case of its own.)
It also led him to launching his own online sportsbook, Betodog (the name again taken from Hanson's nickname). At first, Betodog operated as a skin of Macho Sports—a different book on the outside, but the same software underneath. Hanson wasn't competing with the Portocarreros so much as joining them in the marketplace as a partner. One gambler I interviewed referred to Betodog as "the little brother of Macho."
Like Macho Sports, Betodog quickly developed a reputation for paying out promptly and for going to great lengths to collect on unpaid debts. Whereas many illegal sportsbooks are shoddy and short-lived, Betodog and Macho were professional and well organized, according to former clients who spoke to VICE Sports; they seemed well suited to grow in what remains a massive market. The American Gaming Association, a trade group that promotes gambling legalization, projects that $90 billion will be bet on American football in 2016, $88 billion of that through illegal books.
"We ran it like a Fortune 500 company," Hanson told me. According a person close to Hanson, the man at the controls of Betodog was an American expat in Peru named Kenny Hilinski. Hilinski, who has pleaded guilty to a count of RICO conspiracy and awaits sentencing, operated sort of like a COO. In a text message intercepted by the FBI and listed in a motion filed by prosecutors, Hilinski identified himself to one gambler as "O's manager." On Sunday nights after a football weekend, he would send out invoices to bettors outlining what they had earned or what they owed.
According to one client, winnings would always arrive promptly on Mondays after a football weekend. If you lost, the expectation was that the book's courtesy would be returned by the gambler. If it wasn't, the client said, Hanson would not hesitate to resort to other methods.
Betodog and Macho had a vast network of collectors on payroll who were quick to act—another way the outfits were different from typical sportsbooks. They are accused of applying all manner of psychological pressure on indebted gamblers: threatening force, calling family members, breaking into homes. Jan Portocarrero was accused by the government of bragging about stealing the cars of delinquent gamblers. According to a motion filed by the prosecution, one of Hanson's co-defendants, Jack Rissell, emailed evidence to Hanson that he beat up an indebted gambler in Minnesota.
One longtime sports gambler who played with Betodog recalled Hanson, then in his late 20s, bossing around men 30 and 40 years his senior. The gambler described Hanson in starkly amoral terms—a "savant businessman," "brilliant."
"As far as liquidity, speed of payment, and all-around professionalism, he was one of the best bookies I've ever seen."
According to a source close to Betodog, Hanson's gambling operation accepted every manner of payment: wire transfers, checks, cash, gold, silver, property, even bitcoin. One time, there was a catamaran. Hanson often used untraceable gold and silver coins as currency in his own betting. When he was arrested last year, FBI agents seized 500 silver coins and 26 ten-ounce silver bars from his home, according to court transcripts.
In 2010, Hanson was arrested for possession of steroids. He lost his real-estate license as a result, but by then OwenSells.com had become a quaint reminder of Hanson's earlier ambitions. Now he was the guy his first website made him out to be; he was already standing on the mountaintop. Betodog was a success.
The problem was, Hanson wanted to keep climbing.
And so, according to the indictment, Hanson became a drug dealer. He is accused of selling cocaine, GHB, and ecstasy. Most of his bettors had no idea, but while they were gambling on NFL games, Hanson was allegedly using his connections from his USC days to sell drugs to at least one football player; the indictment alleges that at one point Hanson FedExed cocaine and ecstasy to a NFL player in Nashville. Another of Hanson's co-defendants is Derek Loville, the former Super Bowl–winning running back, who is accused in the indictment of dealing drugs. (Loville did not respond to calls from VICE Sports.)
Hanson also found a market far from home, and far from the world of American football: Australia. It's unclear exactly how Hanson wound up there, but Australia would be the site of some of his greatest glories as a drug dealer. It would also turn out to be the place where a convoluted series of events began that still haunt Hanson, and will, he said, for the rest of his life. It all began when he met a professional gambler named Robin Hood 702.
"I wish I never met that guy," Hanson told me during one of my visits to MCC San Diego.
Some months earlier, the man called Robin Hood had told me the same thing.
Hanson was in Sydney, Australia, in May of 2011 when Craig Haeusler knocked on the door of his rental apartment, a rolling suitcase behind him. Haeusler had previously served five years for selling meth in the Sydney suburbs. He was delivering cash: $702,000 Australian, all in $50 bills.
By 2011, Hanson was already a successful bookmaker. And in Australia, he could capitalize on the high demand for and limited supply of cocaine. At his bail hearing, prosecutors revealed that Hanson allegedly told an undercover agent that he sold cocaine in Australia for $175,000 per kilo. For the sake of comparison, the going rate for a kilo in Hanson's hometown of Los Angeles is closer to $20,000. That's an 875 percent markup.
According to Australian newspaper reports, associates there called Hanson "Dispose" because of his tendency to frequently change hotel rooms and cell phone numbers. The word could also describe Hanson's alleged behavior when it comes to the large quantities of cash in his possession.
According to a related ruling in a New South Wales court, Hanson was due to travel soon after he received the $702,000: first to Perth to visit an aunt who was suffering from cancer, and then back to Los Angeles for a few weeks. Instead of taking the cash to a safe deposit box or a trusted associate, Hanson decided to stash the suitcase in a crawlspace in the ceiling of his rental apartment. He'd leave it there even as other tenants stayed in the apartment while he was gone.
In Hanson's world, sports gambling and money laundering were inextricably connected to the drug trade. In fact, he had met Haeusler, the convicted drug dealer who delivered the cash, through a mutual gambling connection. According to a person close to his operation, Hanson's best gambling clients were drug dealers. So the transition from gambling into drug trafficking was very natural. It felt inevitable, even. Eventually, the source said, Hanson preferred the drug business.
In the drug trade, things were cut and dry. People tended to pay their debts on time. The stakes were higher, both financially and legally, which made everybody sharper and more careful. Bullshit was not tolerated. People didn't shirk responsibilities. Nobody lost fifty grand on a game and then claimed to be out of town the next week, the person close to Hanson's operation explained.
As Hanson's drug business grew, and he began to take bigger risks, he also began to think more internationally. In bail hearings, the government has said that he bought a house in Costa Rica and another in Peru under an associate's name, and that he obtained a Mexican ID under the name Michael Zepeda Ortiz and bought the property for his home in Cabo San Lucas under that name. Per bail hearing transcripts, Hanson also told an undercover agent that his wife's family was helping him obtain Mexican citizenship and a false passport under a different name.
According to the Australian ruling, Hanson returned to Sydney and the apartment in June 2011. Soon thereafter, he met a pair of American women named Soul and Barb at his gym, who then introduced him to a personal trainer named Sean Carolan. Carolan had his own shady history as a cage fighter, horse trainer, and scandal-plagued nutritionist for an Australian rugby club.
Hanson and Carolan planned to open a series of weight-loss clinics by importing something called a Zerona Laser ("the first non-invasive body contouring procedure to effectively remove excess fat without the negative side effects associated with surgical methods"). Hanson was going to invest some of the $702,000 he still had stored in the ceiling of his apartment, according to the Australian ruling. The clinic would have been an ideal way to launder some of the cash Hanson was making in the country, and perhaps a successful business in its own right. Hanson did, in fact, import one of the lasers to Australia. They really work, he told me.
Another way Hanson discovered he could launder cash was through casinos. While he and Carolan were plotting their weight-loss empire, Hanson was also meeting with Robin Hood 702, a professional gambler who has been featured in various news stories for giving his winnings to poor families. They had been introduced to each other by Hanson's wife, Crista, whom Robin Hood 702 said he used to date.
I've been using the name Robin Hood 702 here because that's what Hanson called him while they did business together. The gambler's real name, which he guards closely, is R.J. Cipriani. He's a six foot five middle-aged Philadelphian with a booming voice and a knack for drawing a crowd. Turner produced a reality-show pilot about him at one point, but it didn't get picked up.
When Hanson and Cipriani first met in Australia, neither man was using his real name. Hanson was going by Junior DeLuca, a pseudonym he often used for business, and Cipriani was going by the Robin Hood 702 moniker.
After having a coffee, Hanson invited Cipriani to an apartment in Sydney, where he handed him a suitcase filled with a million dollars Australian, all in $50 bills. Cipriani recalled to me that after a short conversation, Hanson opened a kitchen cabinet to reveal what appeared to be millions more in cash. Hanson took out another $500,000 and placed it in a second bag, which he also handed to Cipriani.
Cipriani told me that he thought Hanson was staking him in blackjack: he'd have to pay back the principle, but anything he made, he'd give to families in need. Before accepting the money, Cipriani says, he repeatedly reminded Hanson that blackjack is a game of chance—there was a strong possibility he could lose it all. But Hanson did not seem worried. He told Cipriani that he believed in him as a gambler and was not concerned about losing the money. Crista had vouched for him.
Here is where Hanson and Cipriani's accounts begin to diverge. Hanson says that Cipriani's version of the events in Australia is false, but he could not elaborate or provide details, as his case is still awaiting trial. One source close to Hanson told me that Cipriani was paid a percentage of the principle to launder the money in the casino—that it was all arranged beforehand. Cipriani denies this. (Hanson, it bears noting, is also alleged to have offered an undercover agent a fee of 8 percent to launder cash, according to transcripts from a bail hearing.)
In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Young alleged that Hanson instructed Cipriani to take the $1.5 million, go up or down a few hundred thousand dollars, and then take the casino check to Las Vegas and cash it there. That money, finally, would go to Hanson.
It was a neat and easy way for Hanson to launder cash, and apparently it all went smoothly. Cipriani did indeed play cards in Australia, win almost $300,000, travel to Las Vegas with a check for almost $1.8 million, and cash out there (the exchange rate between American and Australian dollars in 2011 was close to one-to-one). Eventually, Cipriani handed the money over to Hanson back in the States. Then, in August, Cipriani returned to Australia. Hanson, according to bail hearing transcripts, wanted him to try the same thing again—this time with $2.5 million.
But very quickly, Hanson and Cipriani's relationship fell apart. Cipriani told me that right before accepting the $2.5 million, he got a bad feeling. Hanson's tone had changed, he said. In the course of a few conversations in Cipriani's suite at the Four Seasons in Sydney, Hanson allegedly went from charming to demanding. Cipriani told me no longer wanted any part of Owen Hanson.
Cipriani claims that Hanson insisted he take the $2.5 million anyway, and that Hanson brought up Cipriani's wife, a Brazilian model and actress named Greice Santo—a big deal, considering the two men were still using pseudonyms. Cipriani accepted the money, and also a burner cell phone he could use to stay in contact.
Unsure of what to do about Hanson, Cipriani told me that he decided to "leave it up to the gambling gods," which he did by continuously placing max bets—$20,000 per hand, playing multiple spots—even as his luck ran dry.
He told me that he held off Hanson for as long as he could before revealing that he had blown the money. Hanson, Cipriani says, did not take the news well.
And this is where things get really complicated.
Hanson wanted to meet with Cipriani, and he invited Carolan, the trainer and former MMA fighter, along. Cipriani believes that Hanson wanted Carolan there to talk about the blown $2.5 million. Send a message. By this point, Hanson had also given the $702,000 that had been stashed in his apartment ceiling—the money they were going to invest in the weight-loss clinic—to Carolan for safekeeping at his home in Sydney, according to Carolan's suit. Instead, Carolan stashed the cash in a room he reserved at the nearby Hilton while he and Hanson met up with Cipriani at The Star.
The three men sat down for a tense conversation in a restaurant at the casino about the blown $2.5 million. During the conversation, Cipriani says, Carolan threatened to slit his throat and his wife's throat. They also asked for Cipriani's passport so he couldn't leave the country. Cipriani was able to negotiate three hours to go gather his friend Rick Leventhal, a Fox News reporter who had accompanied him to Australia and was gambling, and said he would wait for a call from Carolan.
When Carolan called, he told Cipriani to meet him in his room at the Hilton. Instead of going to the hotel, Cipriani says he called Hanson using the burner phone and made up a story about being followed, hoping to discourage Hanson from doing just that. Then, he says, he called hotel security at the Hilton and reported a gun up in Carolan's room. Hotel security called the local police. The police never found a gun, but they did find the $702,000, which they promptly confiscated. Carolan was arrested. Cipriani and Hanson both left the country.
Cipriani claims that the $702,000 was meant for him, and that Hanson wanted him to deposit it at The Star Casino without playing a single hand, get a check, give it to Hanson, and meet him back in the States to cash it at a casino in Vegas. He didn't know how much money Hanson planned to give him at the time, but in retrospect, to him, the fact that it was $702,000 was no coincidence. After all, Cipriani points out, his pseudonym is Robin Hood 702—as in the area code for Las Vegas.
An Australian court said that the amount was related to the exchange rate at the time. Those close to Hanson told me that there's no way he would have given Cipriani even more money after he blew the $2.5 million. In any case, the $2.5 million was gone—and so was the $702,000, seized by the Australian government.
In the ensuing years, Carolan mounted a legal effort to claim ownership of the $702,000, but failed. Hanson and Cipriani, meanwhile, returned to Los Angeles. Both men, it turned out, lived there. Cipriani didn't know that at the time. He initially felt like he had dodged a bullet.
Then, Cipriani says, Hanson showed up at the concierge desk of his apartment building in Santa Monica.
"You have found the fucking story of your life."
R.J. Cipriani was my first contact in reporting this article. In retrospect, that is the way it had to be. Cipriani has, in many ways, been the narrator of the Owen Hanson story as it has played out in the American press.
When I began to follow Hanson's story after his arrest last year, I saw the name Robin Hood 702 in Australian newspaper reports. Curious, I sent Cipriani a note. Moments later, I received a call from a private number, and a loud, deep voice made that declaration.
Cipriani's website, RobinHood702.com, describes Robin Hood 702 as "a mysterious gambler who hands money to poor families," but he's not completely mysterious: he has been in the news dozens if not scores of times over the years. A cursory internet search at the time we first spoke led me to an ABC News item, "Real Life Robin Hood Rescues Man from Fire." There were many others like it, all describing Robin Hood 702's various heroics as a man of the people.
In many ways, R.J. Cipriani is a more compelling and mysterious figure than his alter ego. He grew up in a blue-collar Italian family in Philadelphia; as a teenager, he worked baking and delivering soft pretzels. In the early 1980s, Cipriani said he found himself in a romantic rivalry with a member of the Pagans Motorcycle Club. The biker beat him over the head with a sawed-off axe handle. Then Cipriani shot him seven times in the leg. He was exonerated for reasons of self-defense, his lawyer confirmed. He later opened an insurance adjustment company.
Cipriani spent the mid and late 90s caring for his mother, who had Alzheimer's. After she passed away, in 2000, he moved to Florida, then Las Vegas, before finally landing in Santa Monica, where he took on the identity of Robin Hood 702. It is, he says, a tribute to his mother. He goes to church every day to light a candle for her, he told me. He also happens to work regularly as a confidential human source for the FBI. He said the code name they assigned him is Jackpot.
As for the gambling, Cipriani had been playing cards in Atlantic City since he was 16 years old, sneaking into casinos while he was still underage. Things had gone relatively smoothly, at least for a professional gambler—until Australia.
Soon after he returned to Los Angeles, Cipriani told me, he began to feel pressure from Hanson. At one point, Cipriani says, he approached the FBI in Philadelphia under a proffer letter, which granted him immunity. He says he sat in an office with two federal agents and an Assistant U.S. Attorney and told the story of what happened in Australia. Nobody in the room believed him.
Nearly a year after they returned from Australia, Cipriani says, Hanson invited him to fly down to Costa Rica to meet and discuss the debt—a debt that Cipriani says he did not believe he really owed, but had already caused him a great deal of stress. Once in Costa Rica, according to Cipriani, an associate of Hanson's threatened him with a gun.
Cipriani fled the scene and the country. Assistant U.S. Attorney Young recounted Cipriani's story at a Hanson bail hearing, and said that his travel to Costa Rica had been verified by government officials.
The same month Cipriani fled Costa Rica, Hanson hired a private investigator to dig up everything he could about Cipriani and his wife, Greice. That private investigator, Daniel Joseph Portley-Hanks, is the sixth listed co-defendant in Hanson's RICO case. He is charged with criminal conspiracy, forfeiture, and operating an illegal gambling business, but Portley-Hanks believes that he is actually a victim of Owen Hanson.
"There's no future-bad-guy database," he told me.
Portley-Hanks is a well-regarded PI in the entertainment industry, who, if given the opportunity, will talk your ear off for an hour about the origins of the LexisNexis database. Heavyset, with curly hair and a propensity for catching you off-guard with a dirty joke, he goes by Danno, not Daniel. He operates his business, Backstreet Investigations, out of a one-bedroom apartment in the San Fernando Valley. The walls of his apartment are covered in plaques honoring his contributions to the safety of various communities, letters of commendation, and photos he took with various celebrities—BB King caught my eye—while he worked in private security.
During a conversation we had in his apartment, Danno accepted a collect call from an inmate in a Clark County, Nevada, jail. Afterwards, he explained to me that a stripper friend of his in Las Vegas was locked up for DUI, and concerned about her pet Maltese Sadie, who was at home without her. I listened as Danno assured her that he was taking care of everything, sending a mutual friend over to feed the dog.
Danno enlisted in the Marines out of high school. He served as a medic—he said he refused to carry a gun; he's not a violent person—and was in Vietnam for just two days before he got shot through the shoulder and sent home. In the 1970s, he was convicted of stealing cars and aiding in a burglary. He became a jailhouse lawyer, and got himself exonerated on a technicality in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. After he got out of prison, he answered a want ad for a private investigator. He worked for decades under the man who would eventually be his partner, Fred Valis.
In the 1980s, Danno and Valis became highly decorated FBI informants when they infiltrated the Gambino crime family and brought down—ironically, it would turn out—one of the world's biggest bookies, Ron "The Cigar" Sacco. They were featured on 60 Minutes. Sacco called Valis "pestilence" and Danno "vermin." Danno had turned his life around. He worked security for major musical acts. He finally was able to obtain a certificate of rehabilitation and get his own license as a private investigator.
In 2012, Danno was 66 years old and getting his life back on track yet again; the house he had bought right before the Great Recession went into foreclosure and he had to declare bankruptcy. Financially, he was still underwater, which meant a lot of grunt work to keep the lights on. Many of Danno's jobs came from tabloids and television news programs. He spent a lot of his time running exhaustive database searches at his desk. Then, as now, he kept his files meticulously organized on his computer. Beside it was a tray covered in his various medications, including insulin he injected.
Danno says that Hanson called him for the first time on July 19, 2012. It was nearly a year after the incident in Australia, Cipriani had just returned from Costa Rica, and Hanson was running out of patience. But Danno says he didn't know about any of that. He wouldn't until much later.
Danno told me that Hanson identified himself as a former USC football player who was self-employed as a real-estate developer. Hanson had certain people who owed him money, and he wanted background checks and personal location searches conducted on them. He also wanted to investigate a few prospective business partners. Pretty standard stuff for a PI. So Danno agreed to meet Hanson at a Starbucks on Wilshire Boulevard in LA's Miracle Mile district. After a short conversation there, Hanson handed over $300 cash and said he'd follow up soon with a list of names.
The first two searches Danno ran for Hanson were of Cipriani and his wife. A few weeks later, Hanson asked if Danno could help him with "collections"—helping convince tenants who owed him money to pay. Danno said that wasn't his sort of thing, but he gave Hanson the number of a friend of his named Jack Rissell who had fallen on hard times and was living in his van.
After that, the work was piecemeal: Danno ran a few names here and a few names there. But in October, something changed. That's when Danno says Hanson really became obsessed with Cipriani.
When Hanson was arrested last September, multiple news stories included the same detail, pulled from a profile of Hanson that ran in South Bay Magazine, that seemed to encapsulate everything about the playboy athlete turned criminal mastermind: hanging on the wall of the office in Hanson's home was a silver-plated AK-47 stamped with the Louis Vuitton logo.
In the profile, titled "Single in Redondo," Hanson comes off as harmless and a little cheesy and probably exactly how he wants to come off. He talks about the way he remodeled his childhood home as a modernist temple, decorated to honor his favorite spots in Las Vegas. There is a tequila room. An infinity pool. A man cave with the same chairs you might find women getting pedicures in at a nail salon ("I bought manicure reclining chairs and had them reupholstered with fabric so they don't appear so commercial," Hanson told South Bay.)
To outsiders, Hanson might have seemed like he was on the road to being a successful entrepreneur. In a sense, he really was. He had his tattoos removed. He continued to open up businesses in Southern California, including Vapor Berry, a vape business, and 3Ten Developments, a company he started with family friend Charlie D'Agostino—the longtime contractor and former music manager who would become a co-defendant.
Hanson's friends in Redondo recall seeing him in Armani suits, carrying a briefcase around town. He joined a country club. Played a lot of golf. Surfed.
"It was just a big party," said one friend of Hanson's at the time. "It was a tight group of friends that just partied pretty hard. Worked hard, played hard. Surf. Volleyball. What you see is what you get. I think we all had questions about what those guys did, but no one ever really brought it up."
The fact that Hanson ran an offshore gambling site was an open secret among his friends in the South Bay at the time—the drug trafficking, however, was a real secret. According to court transcripts, Hanson was arrested once for drug trafficking but managed to avoid charges and had the arrest cleared from his record.
While Hanson was doing business in Australia, the FBI was beginning an in-depth investigation of Macho Sports, the book under whose wing he had launched Betodog. Federal agents went undercover inside the Macho Sports operation and employed a series of wiretaps on suspects.
According to a source close to his operation, Hanson got a tip from the Portocarrero brothers that they were hot—things were going to go badly, and quickly. He and Hilinski rushed to cleave their business from Macho Sports. They moved all their offshore gambling operations from Peru to Costa Rica. A few weeks after Hanson was tipped off, the arrests came down, nabbing 19 people, including Jan and Erik Portocarrero. Hanson was relieved to have gotten away.
What Hanson didn't know at the time is that an FBI agent had learned about him while investigating the Portocarrero brothers. Charges were brought in the Macho Sports case in June of 2013. The FBI's investigation of Owen Hanson began that same month. Soon Hanson would end up being a subject of several wiretaps. His operation would be infiltrated by an undercover agent, too—a man he would know as Al Wilson.
According to court transcripts, in the months leading up to his arrest, Hanson would allegedly wire $375,000 into a single offshore account. He would allegedly make multiple crossings on foot into Mexico. He would allegedly tell the undercover agent, the man he knew as Al Wilson, that he hoped he was not a cop. Because if Wilson was, and Hanson's wife's family found out, Hanson would be "six feet under."
In October 2012, Danno says, Hanson called and asked to meet him again at the Starbucks on Wilshire. What follows is a version of the events he recounted to me, which he had typed up in a document for his own personal use in the days following his arrest. That document was also provided to VICE Sports.
This time, Hanson had a very different kind of request. He wanted Danno to fly out to Philadelphia and photograph the Cipriani family burial plot in a cemetery there. Danno told me that it felt like he was being asked to indulge the whims of a rich guy locked into a bizarre feud, but he was also hard up for cash and didn't really see the harm in taking a picture. Hanson offered him $5,000 for the job.
Danno, who doesn't fly, saw an opportunity to make a trip of it. His brother, who was ill, lived near Philadelphia in Rumson, New Jersey. A couple days after meeting with Hanson, Danno started driving east. After a short visit with his brother, Danno was forced to start heading home early. Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the East Coast. He figured he would stop at the cemetery, take the photo, and drive back to LA, beating out the storm.
As Danno tells me, as soon as he sent Hanson the photo of the burial plot, there was another request: Hanson would pay him an additional $2,000 if he threw fake blood on the headstone there and photographed it. Danno was reluctant at first, but soon he had an idea: he'd use water-soluble red paint, and the coming storm would eliminate all evidence of the desecration immediately. So he drove to a hardware store, bought a can of paint, tossed it on the headstone, and snapped a few photos. He didn't realize, he says, that he had actually purchased oil-based paint. He'd been out of jail for nearly forty years, and here he was sucked back into making stupid decisions and careless mistakes.
When Danno got back to Los Angeles, Hanson asked to meet again at the usual Starbucks. He had more requests: Could Danno Photoshop Hanson into the picture? Could he Photoshop Cipriani's name and the words "VERY SOON" onto the headstone?
Danno was something of a Photoshop amateur, but he thought that if he could photograph Hanson standing in front of a similar background, he could then insert him into the picture beside the headstone. They decided to meet on the grass fields at the nearby La Brea Tar Pits. Hanson arrived wearing a Mexican soccer jersey, a lucha libre mask, and carrying a shovel.
When he saw Hanson, Danno hesitated, but only for a moment. He was baffled. By this point, Hanson had led him to believe that Cipriani was some sort of gambling rival, but did that justify these weird threats? He says that even now, even though he's aware of the charges Hanson is facing, he can't imagine that an allegedly dangerous man would be so petty, so silly in the way he went about threatening somebody. Hell, it was Halloween. Maybe that's why he went along with it, Danno said. He couldn't believe that it was actually serious. But to Hanson it was.
So there they stood on the lawn behind the Tar Pits. As the lakes full of goo and oil that ten thousand years ago had swallowed woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers whole bubbled beside them, and oblivious tourists walked into and out of the adjacent museum, Owen Hanson posed with a lucha libre mask, a shovel, and expensive jeans for a picture shot by a senior-citizen private eye to be edited into a photo of a vandalized grave and mailed to a man called Robin Hood.
That day at the Tar Pits was the last time Danno and Hanson ever met in person. For three years, however, Hanson continued to use Danno for work. A review of the PayPal records Danno provided for VICE Sports indicates that mostly these were $50 jobs—basic background checks and database searches. In total, Danno was paid about $4,000 for his work as an investigator.
Danno says that until the day Hanson was arrested in September, he had no idea what he was really up to. And until the FBI knocked down his apartment door early one morning in January, he had no sense that he, too, could be implicated. Yes, he had desecrated the grave, he told me. That had been a terrible mistake. But the punishment for throwing paint on a grave in Pennsylvania is merely a fine. He looked it up.
Cipriani says that the threats from Hanson steadily increased over a few years. He says the grave desecration and the bad Photoshop job were only a small part of a larger campaign of intimidation. In the indictment, the federal government alleges that the campaign was carried out by Danno and Jack Rissell on Hanson's behalf.
In the account he typed up after his arrest, Danno wrote that he ran searches for Hanson about Cipriani and at one point took photos of Cipriani's apartment building in Santa Monica on Hanson's behalf. He says that he handed the information and photos over to Hanson at the Starbucks and saw Hanson place them in a USPS envelope, but that he was not aware of where that envelope was going. Hanson says that he never sent anything to Cipriani. Rissell did not return multiple requests for comment.
Cipriani alleges that Rissell stationed himself in a van at the door of his apartment building in Santa Monica. He said that Hanson, or his agents, placed threatening phone calls to his wife, Greice, that were made to look as if they came from Cipriani's number, and vice versa. He alleges that Hanson sent flowers to Greice with a note that read, "The best of luck with all your endeavors -Junior."
Cipriani also alleges—and the government does, as well, in its wiretap motion—that Hanson sent him a series of packages through the mail that included Cipriani and his wife's social security numbers and other personal information, and, later, the doctored photos of his family's paint-splattered headstone.
According to Cipriani, the threats culminated with a DVD, mailed first to Greice, and then to Cipriani himself. The DVD begins with the camera centered on two masked men, one of whom is carrying a machine gun. A subtitle, written in Spanish, appears on-screen: "If you don't pay us money, this will happen to you."
"We found your mother," the man with the machine gun says. "You know that we are not playing games."
If you don't pay, the man says, you should tell us who you want us kill first: you or your wife. Then the DVD cuts to a clip of two men being beheaded, one by chainsaw, and the other with a butcher's knife.
Over the summer, defense attorneys from the case, including Hanson's, filed a motion to suppress wiretap evidence obtained by the FBI. In response, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a motion that outlines some of the tactics used by investigators in the case.
In addition to using confidential sources—Cipriani and another person who remains anonymous—the FBI tapped three separate "target facilities": a cell phone belonging to Hanson, a Gogii text messaging account belonging to Hilinski, and an email account belonging to Hanson.
From these target facilities, the FBI learned, among other things, that on July 15, 2013, Hanson did indeed receive an extensive background report from Danno Portley-Hanks, including information on Cipriani and Greice. The FBI also claims that it was able to estimate, with the help of an IRS special agent, that Hanson's gambling income between October and December 2012 was at least $323,179. The wiretap motion does not state how exactly they arrived at that figure, only that it came from three bookies. One source close to Hanson's operation told me that Hilinski ran the software for a number of bookies and online gambling sites, and that the number is probably inflated.
While the FBI was investigating Hanson, so, says Cipriani, was he. Cipriani obtained a copy of Hanson's cell phone contact list and started making calls. He says he dialed up Hanson's gambling connections, including members of Macho Sports, pretending to be a part of the sports-betting scene, and learned about the operation. After Hanson's arrest, Cipriani continued to reach out to other people in Hanson's contact list, including former NFL tight end Jeremy Shockey, who is a close friend of Hanson's.
Danno told me that a week after he was released by the FBI, he got a call from Cipriani. Cipriani said he knew that Danno was the one who poured paint on his family headstone. He wanted an apology.
In January, after the RICO indictment was announced and the second wave of arrests were made, Cipriani—who has always used the press to get his message, and his brand, across—began to push his story about the case in the media. The New York Post published three articles, the third of which appeared in April. Titled "I helped the FBI catch a crime boss and they ruined my career," it described how, after reports about the incidents in Australia were published following Hanson's arrest, Cipriani was banned from major casinos in Las Vegas and around the world. As a professional gambler, it was the equivalent of being told he couldn't work.
Cipriani's media push culminated in May, when a local news affiliate from Miami broadcast a segment on Cipriani and the case. In the segment, the reporter ambushes Shockey outside of his apartment. The news crew also came out to Los Angeles. In another scene, Danno appears to walk into an interview that's in progress to beg forgiveness from Cipriani, who is referred to in the report as Individual A. Danno can be seen crying after Cipriani takes his hand. The tears were real, Danno told me months later. But he only agreed to appear on television because he was desperate. Cipriani told him that if he did so, he would speak favorably to the judge on his behalf.
Cipriani has told me that he has accepted Danno's apology, and believes it was sincere, but that he will never be able forgive him.
In court documents, hearings, and their initial press release after the RICO arrests, the federal government put Cipriani and his accusations front and center. Last month, the attorneys for Hanson, Loville, and D'Agostino filed a Brady motion in court seeking evidence to use for impeachment purposes in the event Cipriani testifies on behalf of the prosecution.
They also began to lay out a case against Cipriani, who they argue was actually part of the ODOG conspiracy—not a victim of it, and not a hero for bringing it down. Cipriani is, according to the motion by the defense, "a man who has used our system of laws to perpetuate fraud for self-gain."
In 2003, Cipriani pleaded guilty to one count of insurance fraud and one count of attempted theft by deception in Pennsylvania in a case dating back to his time working in that industry. He says it was a trumped-up charge by his brother, a cop in Philadelphia, and an ex-classmate from Catholic school who worked for the District Attorney, after he and his brother had a falling-out over the care of his mother.
Included as attachments with the motion are copies of press reports about the Hanson case (many of them featuring Cipriani as the main source), police files and court records from the conviction in Philadelphia, and documents related to a pending slip-and-fall lawsuit in which Cipriani is the plaintiff. (Cipriani has testified that the injury occurred while he was operating as a confidential human source on a pump-and-dump case.) Should the Hanson case go to trial, it appears that one of the defense's key strategies will be discrediting Cipriani as a witness for the prosecution.
The matter of Cipriani's importance as a witness speaks to bigger questions about the relationship between Cipriani and Hanson, as well as the government's case against Hanson.
In the Brady motion, the defense attorneys state that Cipriani was "employed by Mr. Hanson to move money." This echoes the source close to Hanson who told me that Cipriani had agreed ahead of time to launder money for Hanson. The first section of the motion concludes like this:
"The inescapable fact is that Mr. Cipriani was an important, yet unindicted, member of the alleged conspiracy, and is one of, if not the most important, significant witnesses in this case; particularly with respect to Mr. Hanson's activities."
Either Hanson's lawyers and associates are telling the truth or Cipriani and the federal government are. What both sides seem to agree on is that Cipriani's testimony is important. It's impossible to know how important. Is it that there would be no case against Hanson in the first place had Cipriani not gone to the FBI, first in Philadelphia in 2012 under the proffer letter, and again in San Diego in 2013? Or is it that Cipriani is just one of the bricks the FBI has used to build a broad case against Hanson that also includes wiretaps and an undercover agent?
Cipriani believes that there would be no case without him, but he also thinks that there is enough evidence, even without his testimony, to put Hanson away. He says that Australian authorities have asked him to sign an official complaint about Hanson so he can testify in their case against him there, but that for now he is taking a wait-and-see approach.
Meanwhile, Cipriani says he is still unable to gamble at casinos, and thus unable to make a living. (I made a number calls to verify this and find out why, but as a matter of policy, casinos refuse to discuss individual clients.) He recently told me that he plans on sending his resume to the Trump Organization—he figures they would be open to taking on a person with a less-than-traditional employment history. He says he also plans to continue the Robin Hood 702 project, even if he can't do so from the floor of a casino. He told me he is already working more cases with the FBI and the SEC, as well.
Danno Portley-Hanks continues to work as a private investigator. He's a regular at the same diner in the San Fernando Valley, and still sings karaoke every Sunday at Residuals Tavern. He's thankful for all that, he says. But he's also on a fixed income. Business has slowed down since the arrest. He says his biggest client, a tabloid, is waiting for the case to be resolved before they will hire him again. With permission from the court, he recently took a road trip out to Texas, where he caught up with an old friend, the musician and sometimes political candidate Kinky Friedman.
Danno can't afford to hire his own attorney, and for a while he struggled to communicate with his court-appointed defender. They are on the same page now after a meeting with the judge. Danno remains terrified at the prospect of being convicted. He messed up, he says. He knows that. But he insists he had no idea what he was getting into with Owen Hanson. If convicted, Danno could lose his license, even if he doesn't go to jail.
And if he goes to jail? Danno points to the tray of medicine bottles and vials beside his computer screen. He doesn't think he would survive it.
Owen Hanson, meanwhile, can only wait. To fill the time, he watches television, reads, exercises, things like that. His job as an orderly on the floor also gives him something to do during the day.
During one of our visits, Hanson asked if I had seen the previous night's World Series game—he could squint at the guard's television through his cell. He also told me that he was following the election closely and rooting for Hillary Clinton, who he thought might have a less aggressive Justice Department than Donald Trump, especially when it comes to drug charges.
One of Hanson's favorite activities in jail is exercising, just like it had been on the outside. I asked him once how his prison weightlifting routine compared to his workouts at USC, and his eyes lit up: he told me that his workout buddy inside was an experienced inmate named Stomper who had a face tattoo and a very serious gang affiliation. Stomper had shown him how to use water bags and other found objects to get a good workout in his cell.
The next day, Hanson followed up with even more detail in a Corrlinks message. One thing he did was use his bed as a weight. "There's a strength handed down in this place from the criminals in here," he wrote. "No more Met-RX sponsored protein shakes," he added. "Now just a pack of tuna and a Top Ramen soup."
The Edward J. Schwartz United States Courthouse in downtown San Diego is a big block of a building located only a few hundred yards from MCC—and it's about as welcoming. On the mornings of his court dates, Hanson is woken up at 5 AM by U.S. Marshals, strip-searched, and escorted down into a tunnel that runs to the Schwartz building, as well as to the more modern courthouse beside it. He is then placed in a holding cell with other inmates. They are given lunches of processed meat and bread.
On the Tuesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, that's where Hanson waited for his last shot at bail. After firing Babcock, the attorney who had compared his case to a crime novel, Hanson hired a lawyer named Mark F. Adams. Adams, with gray hair and a sizeable mustache, gives off a calmer, more staid vibe. A few years ago, he represented Francisco Javier Arellano Felix, one of the most notorious and violent cartel leaders in Mexican history.
One of Adams' strategies with Hanson was to try for this final shot at bail. It's hard for an attorney to defend a person who is already behind bars. On the outside, Hanson could help with his defense. In a trial, he could come into the courtroom through the front door, wearing a suit. On Tuesday, Hanson entered Courtroom 1E in the company of a bailiff, wearing his prison khakis.
"Thanks for having me back," he told the presiding judge, Mitchell Dembin.
Dembin laughed. "It's my job," he said.
The courtroom, which looked like it hadn't been updated since the 1970s—wood paneling, emerald carpets, brown leather seats—was about half-full. Sitting in the second row were Hanson's mother and sister. Hanson's mother, a school teacher, was willing to place her home in a San Diego suburb and her pension on the line as collateral. If Hanson was granted bond, he would subject himself to a GPS monitoring device, and live at home with her. (Jim, his father, now lives in Montana.)
In the initial hearings after his arrest, prosecutors had highlighted Hanson's international resources and efforts to obtain foreign passports. In his ruling, Dembin agreed that while Hanson did not present a danger to society, he was a considerable flight risk. This time, Adams sought to address that fear. Hanson, Adams argued, "doesn't have any assets or the ability to marshal any assets internationally."
Hanson sat alone in the jury box, looking at once much older and much younger than his 34 years, twiddling his thumbs as his new attorney made his case.
He remained there as Andrew Young, the Assistant U.S. Attorney, took his turn to speak. Hanson's situation, Young said, had only gotten worse since he was previously denied bail. Now he was facing more severe charges and potentially a longer sentence—his incentive to flee, Young argued, was even greater than it had been.
Young also revealed for the first time that Hanson had trafficked "well over a ton of cocaine." He said that after Hanson was first arrested, before the superseding indictment was brought, Hanson used prison phones to conduct ODOG operations. It's "business as usual," Hanson allegedly told co-conspirators from MCC. "Boss's orders." Hanson allegedly directed his co-conspirators to continue payment on his house in Mexico by personally hauling cash over the border.
When Judge Dembin denied Hanson bail last year, he said at the time that doing so was not his preference. He was a judge, he said, who prefers to grant bond whenever possible.
In the months since the RICO arrests were announced, many of Hanson's co-defendants have pleaded guilty. One man, arrested by mistake, was dismissed without prejudice. Some of Hanson's bookies who reached deals were given sentences of five years probation and fines based on their financial status. Hilinski, Hanson's COO, has pleaded guilty, but has yet to be sentenced. Even Hanson himself is working toward a plea agreement, Adams said in court.
It would have to come with Hanson still behind bars.
Judge Dembin thanked Hanson's mother for her willingness to risk her assets on behalf of her son. He said he appreciated the gesture. If Hanson had the financial resources that the government alleged, the money could be paid back to his mother in the event that he fled. It was just money, after all. Considering Hanson's "facility with other identities and large amounts of cash flying around," the judge said, he could not grant bail.
"I think the temptation to disappear is too great."
After the decision, Hanson huddled briefly with Adams as spectators left the courtroom before the next case was called. Adams then escorted Hanson's mother and sister outside while Hanson, accompanied by the bailiff, disappeared behind the wood-paneled door for the journey down into the tunnel and back to MCC.
That night, Hanson sent me a message on Corrlinks. He was disappointed with the judgment, having hoped to get out in time for a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. His trial, if he does not reach a plea agreement, will begin on Valentine's Day.
"Tough luck today," he wrote.
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