Federal authorities in the United States say they’ve broken up an international gambling ring that went by the name Macho Sports, an action that included issuing 18 indictments against individuals facing racketeering and illegal gambling charges.

At first glance, Macho Sports might seem like a typical underground gambling operation. Customers in the United States – particularly in California – and elsewhere were able to place bets on sporting events over the past decade. The group had a system of bookies in place locally to accept bets, while also operating Internet sites and a toll-free phone line to accept remote betting.

Sophisticated Outfit

It was a major operation. According to U.S. authorities, Macho Sports employed several layers of bookies along with runners, collectors and phone operators in order to accept bets, pay winnings and collect debts.

The debt collection part of the company may be where Macho Sports separated itself from some other sports betting and online gambling operations that have run afoul of the United States government in the past. According to authorities, Macho Sports had a “violent reputation” and was known for using “intimidation, threats and violence” in order to collect debts at any cost, living up to its Macho name.

Violence and Intimidation

Much of this information came courtesy of wiretaps that allowed authorities to overhear some rather interesting conversations. For instance, one of the group’s ringleaders, Jan Harald Portocarrero, is said to have referred to a collector by saying that he “kidnaps people, strikes them with a gun, and he’s walking the streets.”

“Criminal enterprises like ‘Macho Sports’ and their U.S.-based bookmakers prey on the gambling addictions of their betting customers, wreaking havoc on people’s lives and the lives of family members,” said FBI special agent Daphne Hearn.

The indictments targeted 18 individuals in Southern California, Norway, and Peru, resulting in 15 arrests on Wednesday. Two prominent members of the company are still at large.

Macho Sports was initially set up by the Portocarrero brothers – Erik and Jan Harald – in 2002. The brothers were from California, but established Macho Sports International in Panama. In 2008, they moved the company to Peru, where the Portocarreros had family. It was the Peru headquarters that faced the brunt of the U.S. investigation.

The group is also facing charges that it laundered money by having customers pay losses to other unrelated companies, such as check-cashing businesses. This is similar to the tactic taken by poker sites in the United States that led to several of the Black Friday indictments.