64-year-old man who uses wheelchair had prior convictions

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Wednesday, February 4, 2009

ALBANY -- A quadriplegic man who reputedly ran a $56 million Internet gambling ring that stretched from Syracuse to Albany was sentenced Tuesday to 1 to 3 years in state prison.

George Bedigian, 64, of Syracuse, appeared in Albany County Court using a wheelchair. He had never served a day in prison despite nearly a dozen prior gambling-related convictions.

But the silver-haired defendant pleaded guilty Oct. 28 to two counts of first-degree felony gambling promotion. That came seven months after investigators charged him as a ringleader in the largest gambling case in Albany County history.

On Tuesday, Bedigian's attorney, William Dreyer, asked Judge Stephen Herrick to consider an Onondaga County probation report suggesting an alternative to incarceration due to the "severe nature" of Bedigian's medical condition.

The judge said he reviewed the report, but sentenced Bedigian to prison. He said Bedigian also faces possible civil forfeitures.

When Herrick asked him if he wished to comment, Bedigian replied, "No."

Albany County sheriff's deputies escorted Bedigian out of he courtroom as a crowd of irked well-wishers said goodbye.

Due to his condition, Bedigian will go to one of the state prison system's four regional medical units for men. The average annual cost to incarcerate a prisoner in such a facility was $140,361 in 2005-06, said state Department of Correctional Services spokesman Erik Kriss. By comparison, he said, it costs $32,425 that year to house a typical prisoner.

To house most prisoners now costs roughly $40,000, Kriss said. He did not have current numbers for the regional medical unit.

"How they're gonna take care of him is beyond me," said one miffed Bedigian supporter outside the courtroom.

A described "busload" of observers -- some gray-haired, others stocky men and in leather jackets -- trekked to Albany for the sentencing. Most were from Syracuse, but two people familiar with the case noted some observers came from as far as Boston and Las Vegas.

Syracuse-area resident George Militello, 65, explained he was with Bedigian more than four decades ago when his friend was severely injured in a diving accident at a lake. He said he felt Bedigian, whom he praised, has "suffered enough in life."

Bedigian was arrested at his Syracuse home on March 28 after an 18-month probe into what investigators called the "Bedigian-Carucci Bookmaking Operation." His alleged co-ringleader was identified as Joseph "Oink" Carucci of Latham.

Investigators said the gambling crew was headquartered locally at the Veteran Friendship Social Club, behind a strip mall on Route 9 in Latham. Carucci's case and that of other defendants have been ongoing.

The case also sparked a war of words between Albany County District Attorney David Soares and Ononaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick.

The Syracuse-area prosecutor told the Times Union last summer that Bedigian "has actually been treated different" and avoided incarceration because he is disabled. At the time, he estimated the cost of incarcerting him "in the six figures because of his condition." But Albany County prosecutors have said they consider Bedigian one of upstate New York's top bookmakers and a man who deserved incarceration.

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