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Suspect Had Computer Access to Bets

Software engineer, who has not been charged in Breeders' Cup pick six dispute, was 'trusted fellow' cleared to review wagers nationwide.

November 09, 2002|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

On a day when federal authorities formally joined the investigation into a suspicious bet worth more than $3 million placed during Breeders' Cup races last month, more details emerged about the software engineer at the center of the inquiry.

The FBI and U.S. attorney's office confirmed Friday they are assisting New York state police with a case that so far has focused on Chris Harn of Newark, Del. Authorities want to know if he and two acquaintances conspired to rig the Breeders' Cup pick six bet by entering a tote computer system to insert winning horses after four of the six races were run.

No charges have been filed and Harn's attorney has said his client did nothing illegal. But Harn was fired last week from the company whose computers handled the bet.

Sources close to Autotote Systems Inc., speaking on condition of anonymity, portrayed Harn as "a trusted fellow, a senior guy" who was dismissed because "he betrayed our trust."

The 29-year-old worked as a systems expert at the company's Delaware location. "Like a doctor ... it was his job to log in and make sure everything was OK," a source said. Harn's position afforded him a password to access wagers being placed through racetracks and off-track sites nationwide.

Suspicion arose after there had been six winning pick six wagers even with longshot winners of 13-1, 26-1 and 43-1 in the Breeders' Cup races at Arlington Park outside of Chicago on Oct. 26.

Racing officials were startled to learn all six winning pick six wagers were contained in one ticket, which was bet through an off-track account in upstate New York by a Baltimore man named Derrick Davis.

Furthermore, Davis had employed the unusual strategy of "singling" the first four races -- picking only one horse to win -- and betting every horse in the fifth and sixth races.

Racing officials withheld the payoff and New York authorities got involved because the bet originated in their state. Alerted to the situation, Autotote executives knew where to look.

Under the computer protocol used by American tote companies, pick six bets are handled in a certain way: If placed from an off-site location, they do not reach the track where the races are being run until after the fourth race of the pick six is finished. This delay, industry executives say, helps keep computer networks from jamming.

As many as 18 Autotote employees have clearance to access this information while it awaits transfer. Sources suggested that a slightly smaller number had access to the system on Oct. 26 and were in a position to change Davis' bet before it was transmitted to Arlington Park, if in fact that happened.

Autotote executives reviewed pick six betting from that day and, a source said, "we found a suspicious activity and handed it over to the authorities."

Though Harn has not been charged, the source said: "He had studied the system and, with extensive knowledge, had figured a weakness. We believe he took that opportunity."

Authorities connected Harn to Davis, the man who placed the bet, through their days at Drexel University in the 1990s, where they reportedly lived in the same fraternity house. Davis' attorney denied the "wild accusations" leveled at his client.

Another man who lived in the fraternity house -- Glen DaSilva of New York -- is also under investigation. Davis and DaSilva had accounts with Catskill Off-Track Betting Corp., through which they could bet by telephone.

In the wake of the Breeders' Cup, authorities have scrutinized other wagers.

Questions remain about two winning bets made from DaSilva's phone account -- a pick four on Oct. 3 at Balmoral Park, near Chicago, and a pick six on Oct. 5 at Belmont Park in New York. Officials have characterized those bets as potential dry runs for the Breeders' Cup bet. Two wagers at Saratoga Race Course in New York -- unrelated to Davis or DaSilva -- have been cleared.

The investigation has sent shivers through the sport. This incident couldn't have come at a worse time, attendance continuing to decline at tracks nationwide, the industry losing more and more business to state lotteries and casinos.

Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School who has studied gambling, said tote companies have traditionally been the least of racing's concerns.

"This is like nothing compared to the day-to-day worries about drugging horses and fixing races," he said. "If there was anything wrong with this part of the industry, it was probably that they were so good at keeping games honest, they got overconfident."

On Friday, the National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. announced an emergency plan to look for irregularities in all winning multi-race bets. Within 30 days, tote companies will be required to scan multi-race pools after each race, thereby eliminating the delay that might be used to alter bets.

"We've taken the challenge very seriously," NTRA Commissioner Tim Smith said. "We'll do anything necessary to protect our customers and earn their confidence."

Autotote executives said they will comply with the plan and will consider instituting an independent and redundant system to further identify tampering.

With investigators looking for evidence of a federal crime on their premises, and race fans wondering about their computers, the executives bristled at the notion they cannot keep wagering honest.

"Is there room for improvement? Sure," a source said. "But the key issue here is, we have a very simple case of one person betraying trust. And you have to remember, we caught this guy."

*

Staff writer Bill Christine contributed to this report.

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