by Kaitlin Bain
A Beaumont businessman accused of running a multimillion-dollar gambling ring with his family for more than three decades is likely headed to prison after pleading guilty Tuesday to money laundering and tax evasion.
Larry Tillery, owner of the used-car dealership Daylight Motors at Dowlen Road and Eastex Freeway, accepted illegal wagers on sporting events from 1985 to April 2017, federal prosecutors said. In the period between 2011 and 2016 alone, the operation allegedly took in some $52 million in bets.
Tillery’s plea before U.S. District Judge Keith Giblin in Beaumont was in exchange for 33 months in prison, followed by two years probation.
His wife, Judy Tillery, 62, and son, Brian Tillery, 46, pleaded guilty to money laundering in exchange for probation.
Larry Tillery, 69, was released from court on a $50,000 unsecured bond and will be formally sentenced later.
Prosecutors declined comment after the hourlong hearing. But a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Eastern District of Texas detailed the scope of the allegations.
“For more than 30 years this family operated one of the largest illegal sports gambling and money laundering operations in the U.S.,” – Assistant Special Agent in Charge Mary Magness
“Today is the latest step in Mr. Tillery’s efforts to handle his business with the IRS,” Tillery’s attorney Chip Lewis said in a statement. “The Tillery family sincerely appreciates the overwhelming love and support offered by so many good people across Southeast Texas. I have handled quite a few cases and I have never encountered a more beloved man.”
After the hearing, Lewis said he found it “telling” that law enforcement has known about Larry Tillery’s gambling and status as a book maker for at least three decades, but charges have only come now.
“It’s very curious in this day and age where there’s no allegation that Mr. Tillery threatened anybody related to gambling, he’s known nationwide as probably the most respected man in the (gambling) business,” Lewis said. “His words and actions are of the highest integrity but all of a sudden there were federal resources to dedicate.”
The statement from prosecutors accused Tillery of using Daylight Motors and its holding company, Lamar Capital, as a front “to launder illicit proceeds from his illegal gambling enterprise.”
However, Lewis made clear that they are legitimate businesses that larger car lots have shown interest in purchasing.
He used a website to receive and track wagers from clients who bet on professional and collegiate basketball, baseball and football games, the release said. Judy Tillery assisted her husband by depositing cash into her personal bank account and writing checks to accounts controlled by her husband in amounts of less than $10,000 in an attempt to evade federal reporting requirements for currency, the release said.
Brian Tillery collected money from bettors and made payments to bettors on behalf of his father; accepted illegal gambling funds from Larry Tillery to make wire transfers to pay illegal gambling debts; and mailed packages containing more than $10,000 that came from the illegal gambling activities via the U.S. Postal Service at Larry Tillery’s request, according to the release.
Larry Tillery didn’t report or pay any taxes on the bets to the IRS and didn’t register as a bookmaker as required by federal law, according to the release.
“The Tillerys ignored state and federal gambling laws, and profited tremendously from a criminal enterprise,” U.S. Attorney Joseph D. Brown said in the statement. “We intend to collect every bit of the money judgment that will be issued against them, and we expect Larry Tillery’s prison sentence to send a message to those who profit from illegal bookmaking.”
Between September and November 2016, for example, Larry Tillery accepted at least 450 wagers for more than $5 million, which prosecutors in the Eastern District of Texas say would have resulted in total taxes of more than $101,000.
“The investigation traced a total of 125 financial transactions in excess of $10,000 derived from illegal gambling that utilized the United States banking system,” the release said. “These financial transactions totaled more than $32 million between 2010 and 2016.”
As a part of Tuesday’s plea agreement, which still must be accepted by Senior U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield, Larry and Judy Tillery agree to forfeit more than $1.7 million in cash seized during the investigation, luxury watches and pieces of jewelry and several sports memorabilia items, including an autographed Joe Namath jersey.
The pair agreed to a money judgment of nearly $33 million — illegal wagers entered in the sports gambling enterprise during the relevant time period, according to the release.
Brian Tillery’s plea agreement requires him to forfeit $241,176 seized during the investigation and a Beaumont residence valued at about $600,000. He also must pay $700,000.
Judy and Brian Tillery were sentenced to 24 months of probation each and were released on their own recognizance.
Lewis said there are “many other steps” to come in the case.
Larry Tillery was arrested last week after being pulled in Colmesneil by a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper on an outstanding warrant out of Calcasieu Paris, Louisiana.
Parish District Attorney spokeswoman Patsy Dugas said the warrant, signed Sept. 17, 2018, was for writing $330,000 in worthless checks.
In May 2017, the Department of Justice filed paperwork to seize nine properties and more than $230,000 in cash from Larry Tillery. The properties in Beaumont, Lumberton and Phoenix, Arizona, at the time were valued more than $5.3 million.