Updated on 09/16/2011 8:44AM

Pick six suspect pleads guilty

AFP PHOTO/Stuart Bayer/The Journal News
Lt. Robert Patnaude displays the photos of admitted betting scam mastermind Christopher Harn (right) and co-conspirators Glen DaSilva (left) and Derrick Davis.

NEW YORK - Christopher Harn, a 29-year-old computer programmer from Newark, Del., entered a guilty plea Wednesday morning in federal court, admitting that he was the mastermind of two separate betting scams that involved two former fraternity brothers and included rigging the winning Breeders' Cup pick six ticket for a $3 million windfall.

Harn pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of conspiracy to launder money, a pair of felonies that together could bring a maximum of 25 years in prison and a $750,000 fine. Sentences for federal crimes are governed by strict guidelines, but those guidelines can be modified under an agreement with the prosecuting attorney. So Harn struck a deal with U.S. attorney James Comey of the Southern District of New York.

Now, Harn will likely face much less than the maximum term, according to U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Margaret Smith, who presided over the hearing Wednesday in White Plains, N.Y. Harn, who is free on $200,000 bail, will be sentenced on Feb. 19 by U.S. District Judge Charles L. Brient.

The guilty plea came eight days after Comey named Harn, Derrick Davis of Baltimore, and Glen DaSilva of New York in a criminal complaint alleging that the three conspired to manipulate wagering tickets. Harn used his access to the electronic wagering network as an employee of Autotote, the country's largest totalizator company, to alter tickets placed in telephone-betting accounts opened at Caskill OTB by Davis and DaSilva, the complaint said.

Harn was fired from his job as a senior programmer with Autotote on Oct. 31, after the company conducted an internal investigation. Autotote and other similar companies maintain the extensive betting network that links hundreds of betting sites across the country and processed $14.5 billion in wagers last year.

Documents from the U.S. attorney's office describing the plea agreement portray Harn as the ringleader of two betting scams hatched out of his intimate knowledge of tote system maintained by Autotote and his special access to the system. Harn and Davis, both 29, emerge as willing bagmen, cashing fake tickets for Harn and sending portions of the proceeds to him in the form of bank checks.

One scam involved altering pick six and pick four bets after several races were already run, and the other involved printing fakes to replace unredeemed tickets that were identified in the tote system. The fake tickets were then cashed at tracks along the Eastern seaboard, including Aqueduct, Belmont, The Meadowlands, Monmouth, and Philadelphia Park.

Harn used the betting schemes to pay off a mortgage on his house and loans on his car, the plea said. Harn is married and has a 2-year-old daughter.

In the guilty plea, Harn said that he placed pick six and pick four bets through the Catskill accounts held by Davis and DaSilva and then altered the tickets to reflect the winners of the races that had already been run. The bets included a ticket worth $3.1 million that had the only six winning wagers on the Breeders' Cup pick six and 108 of the 186 consolation tickets. Payment has been withheld. The Breeders' Cup was held on Oct. 26 at Arlington Park outside Chicago.

The plea states that Davis and DaSilva opened the accounts but did not place any bets through them. Instead, Harn made the bets by using their account numbers and punching out the wagers on Catskill's touch-tone betting system, which he helped design.

Not including the Breeders' Cup wager, the other bets included a $107,608 payoff on a pick six wager at Belmont Park on Oct. 5 and a $1,757 payoff on a pick four at Balmoral Park, a harness track in Illinois. Both the Belmont pick six ticket and the Breeders' Cup pick six ticket used one horse in each of the first four legs and all the horses in the final two legs. The pick four bet used two singles in the first two legs and every horse in the last two.

After deposits were credited to DaSilva's account on the Belmont pick six and Balmoral pick four, DaSilva asked Castkill to cut an $80,000 cashier's check. DaSilva received the check and forwarded part of the proceeds to Harn, the plea said.

In the second scam, Harn said in the plea that Davis and DaSilva cashed fake tickets that he produced after retrieving information from Autotote's computers about uncashed tickets. The tickets represented payouts in the "tens of thousands" of dollars, the plea said. The individual tickets ranged in value from "several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars," the plea said.

Information about uncashed tickets is usually stored on computer tote systems for up to a year. At the end of that time period, the tickets are normally voided. Several states require that money from uncashed tickets go to the state racing commission or the racing industry. Some tickets routinely go uncashed for a variety of reasons, including bettors overlooking a winner.

Harn's guilty plea increases the possibility that Davis and DaSilva will also enter guilty pleas, according to legal experts. Davis and DaSilva are due back in court on Dec. 11.

Ed Hayes, the attorney for DaSilva, said Wednesday that he is "consulting" with his client. Hayes would not comment on the strategy that he is considering.

Steve Allen, the attorney for Davis, said that his client "maintains his innocence, and we still intend to fight the charges."

Harn's strategy to plead guilty is an acknowledgment that his sentence will likely be more lenient now than if he were convicted after a trial, legal experts said Wednesday. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, which determine the length of prison time for crimes based on prior record, culpability, and cooperation with the investigation, among other factors, the easiest and best way to get a sentence reduced is to avoid a trial, the officials said.

"He will get a reduction for accepting responsibility," said one legal official. "It's the only way to get your sentence reduced under the federal system, because the sentencing guidelines are so strict. Your only hope is to throw yourself on the mercy of the court."

Hayes said that he believed prosecutors were probably "excited" to get Harn's plea.

"He's the one with unique knowledge of the system," Hayes said. "So the government would particularly want him."

By pleading guilty before Davis or DaSilva, Harn avoided the possibility of having either of them agree to testify against him and making it more difficult for him to get his sentence reduced.

One official involved in the investigation said that the strategy made sense for Harn, but it leaves Davis and DaSilva hard-pressed to make a case that they were innocent.

"This was a very defensible case," the official said. "They've never had the evidence that the bet was altered. All they had was circumstantial evidence. But now they have his testimony, and that makes it tough."