Iowa College Athletes Sue for Damages Over Botched Illegal Gambling Probe

Posted on: April 29, 2024, 08:15h. 

Last updated on: April 30, 2024, 09:05h.

A group of Iowa college athletes who were prosecuted by state authorities under dubious circumstances are suing for damages.

Eyioma Uwazurike, Iowa college athletes, gambling scandal, Iowa State, DCI, Kibana, GeoComply, Brian Sanger, Isaiah Lee and Jirehl Brock, Paniro Johnson, GeoComply, Kibana
Eyioma Uwazurike played for the Denver Broncos, above center, until his career was derailed by an illegal gambling investigation that was itself illegal, according to the lawsuit. (Image: DNVT)

In a civil lawsuit filed Friday in the Des Moines federal court, 26 Iowa and Iowa State athletes claim their rights were violated and reputations tarnished during an investigation by Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) that used warrantless searches.

Because of the DCI’s “illegal” investigation, the athletes’ lives, collegiate careers, and future opportunities were “severely upended,” according to the lawsuit.

Among those athletes was Eyioma Uwazurike. After playing for Iowa State from 2017 to 2021, Uwazurike was drafted by the Denver Broncos.

Uwazurike started several games for his new team but was suspended indefinitely by the NFL after being charged in Iowa with gambling violations and felony identity fraud. That was because he placed bets on football using his girlfriend’s account.

On March 1, 2024, a state court judge dismissed all charges against Uwazurike without prejudice.

Unconstitutional Searches

The problem was DCI agents were using geolocation tech provider GeoComply’s Kibana tracking software to pry into students’ betting habits on college campuses.

GeoComply allows online gambling operators to ensure they are only taking bets from users located within the borders of the state in which they’re licensed. The company made Kibana available to law enforcement agencies for use in detecting “hotspots” – areas where a large concentration of bets was occurring.

Initially, the DCI began using Kibana as part of an investigation into fraudulent activity but DCI Special Agent Brian Sanger soon began to use it to spy on college students’ dorms, according to the lawsuit.

He did this, by his own admission, without a warrant or any evidence that underage gambling was occurring, according to his deposition at the criminal trial.

DCI Banned from Kibana

Law enforcement must establish “probable cause” – a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed before they can obtain a search warrant. Otherwise, they’re in violation of a suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protects individuals against unreasonable searches.

When GeoComply discovered the DCI was misusing Kibana, the company kicked the agency off the platform.

DCI agents also violated some of the defendants’ Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, according to the lawsuit. Some who were later charged were told during interviews, falsely, that they weren’t under criminal investigation and weren’t read their Miranda rights.

‘Get Lives Back on Track’

Most athletes pleaded guilty, paid a fine, and dealt with the consequences for their careers. Uwazurike, along with fellow Cyclones football players Isaiah Lee and Jirehl Brock, and wrestler Paniro Johnson, fought the charges and were successful.

The lives of these young men have been disrupted and altered in ways still yet to be fully seen,” the athletes’ attorneys said in a statement.

“Many of them have had their athletic careers ended, due to the State of Iowa’s unconstitutional use of GeoComply’s Kibana software. It is our hope that through the civil action, we can help these young men put their lives back on track and gain a measure of justice for the violation of their rights,” he added.

The lawsuit names the State of Iowa, DCI director Paul Feddersen, DCI assistant director David Jobes, DCI special agent for sports wagering Troy Nelson, and special agent Brian Sanger, among others. It seeks unspecified monetary damages from the state.