At odds over a gambling case

What to do about a severely handicapped suspect? DAs in two counties strongly disagree

ROBERT GAVIN Staff Writer
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Monday, September 22, 2008

ALBANY - George Bedigian is a career bookie.


With nearly a dozen gambling-related convictions around Syracuse since 1979, even authorities there call him "Georgie." But Bedigian also is a quadriplegic. And at 63, he has never had to worry about spending a day in prison - until now. Six months ago, Bedigian was nabbed in the largest gambling case in Albany County history.


His situation poses an awkward question, soon to be answered in Albany County Court: Should a severely handicapped man be eligible for jail, even with multiple arrests, at potential extra cost to taxpayers?


In Syracuse, that answer has been no. But Albany County District Attorney David Soares doesn't rule it out.


It underscores how Soares and his Onondaga County counterpart differ vastly in their approach to Bedigian's condition, and the scope of his alleged criminality. That's not to mention a lack of communication that has sparked a war of words between the upstate prosecutors.


But first, the background: When Albany County investigators arrested Bedigian at his Syracuse home March 28, neither he - nor the local district attorney's office - saw it coming.


"Are you part of the Joint Task Force?" Bedigian asked an investigator, who showed up around 8 a.m. and identified himself as being from Albany County, court papers show.


"Albany County?" Bedigian answered. "Oh ... Carucci."


Bedigian allegedly oversaw a $56 million Internet betting ring alongside Joseph "Oink" Carucci of Latham. An 18-month probe and wiretaps into the "Bedigian-Carucci Bookmaking Operation" exposed a 13-member Albany-to-Syracuse ring based locally at the private Veteran Friendship social club, located behind a Route 9 strip mall in Latham.


While cases are pending, only Bedigian has been indicted. He faces 25 counts of gambling promotion - and, if convicted, a minimum of 1 to 4 years in prison.


Reached at his home, Bedigian declined comment. His attorney, William Dreyer, did not return phone calls.


While other defendants' cases are pending, Bedigian is the only suspect currently indicted.


In Syracuse, by contrast, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick acknowledged Bedigian "has actually been treated different" and avoided jail because he is disabled.


"I would estimate the cost of incarcerating him would be in the six figures because of his condition," said Fitzpatrick. He said Bedigian "takes his bets and takes his arrests and pays his fines and goes on," he said.


Fitzpatrick said Bedigian is not mob-connected, nor has be been linked to violence.


"In my opinion, in terms of public safety," Fitzpatrick said, "he's harmless."


Soares' office considers Bedigian one of upstate's biggest gambling kingpins. But Fitzpatrick does not even consider him the top dog in the ring Soares busted. He repeatedly identified Bedigian by his first name.


"If I see him in the street, I'll say, 'Hi, George' - we'll both laugh," Fitzpatrick said. "He's always been a gentleman."


His words for Soares were far less kind. Fitzpatrick said the March sweep "absolutely ruined" a year-plus probe into "actual ringleaders" in Syracuse. He contends Bedigian is not even the top of the chain in Soares' case, but no one contacted his office.


"No courtesy call. Nothing. Zip," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm not a happy camper about that."


Soares said he didn't want to disclose sensitive information to any agency "not working with us." It would jeopardize "deeply involved" investigators, he said.


"We keep that circle of people very small," Soares said.


"If we had to do it again, I would do it the exact same way," said Inspector John Burke of the Albany County Sheriff's Department, who worked the case. "There was no breach. The investigation came to a great conclusion."


People familiar with Soares' investigation said the wide range of bettors requires discretion in gambling cases. When Bedigian was arrested in 2005, they note, a state trooper was charged. They also note it was the largest case in Syracuse history - and Bedigian is still not indicted.


Fitzpatrick said Bedigian "got greedy" in 2005, and expects him to plead guilty to a felony. He will not ask for jail time, he said, but it would be mandatory if Bedigian committed a later felony, which would not include Albany's case. "George has nothing else to do - he's in the wheelchair, his quality of life has diminished terribly," he said. "It's been made clear to him now that it's all over."


Soares is a Democrat, Fitzpatrick a Republican. Albany Law School clinical professor Laurie Shanks said district attorneys, particularly upstate, typically get along well and that party politics does not surface.


"But," she added, "we would be naive to think it does not happen at times."


Court papers show better cooperation between the two region's bookies.


The Syracuse-to-Albany ring took bets on everything from the NFL to Ultimate Fighting Championships, using an offshore Web site account (www.linewiz.com) based in Costa Rica. Bedigian and Carucci allegedly reviewed accounts every week, with Carucci delivering gambling proceeds to Bedigian by either driving to Syracuse or dispatching someone else to do it.


But they were all arrested March 28 and hauled before an Albany judge on felony charges.


Nearly six months later, the town of Colonie has closed the Veteran Friendship Social Club, one of several private hangouts shut down following an armed stickup in what police called an Albany poker den.


The outcome of Albany County's largest-ever gambling case remains uncertain, just like all those football bets and poker games, some a short ride away from Syracuse at Turning Stone casino.


"Hopefully," said Carucci's attorney, Larry Rosen, "everybody will keep in mind that the biggest bookmaker in the state of New York is, in fact, the state of New York."








Robert Gavin can be reached at 434-2403 or by e-mail at rgavin@ timesunion.com.