Billy Walters, mega car dealer and one of the most successful sports bettors in the U.S., is now in federal prison.
A Manhattan federal court judge sentenced Walters in July to five years behind bars for devising a six-year insider-trading scheme with onetime Dean Foods Co. Chairman Tom Davis. The judge also fined Walters $10 million. And last month he was ordered to forfeit $25.4 million in ill-gotten gains, Bloomberg reported.
Walters, 71, was due to report to prison Tuesday, according to published reports.
A bid for Walters to remain free on bail during his appeals was denied in federal court last month.
Since the 1980s, Walters has been indicted four times but never convicted on charges related to gambling -- until now.
Last year, Walters was indicted by the U.S. government, accused of insider trading. The Wall Street Journal reported that Walters offered insider tips to professional golfer Phil Mickelson, who used the profits from those trades to pay off his a gambling debt to Walters.
Walters netted about $43 million on corrupt tips from Davis, his former friend and golfing pal, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. In April, he was convicted on 10 counts of fraud and conspiracy after a four-week trial at which jurors rejected his defense of blaming Davis for the racket. Davis pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government.
The judge characterized Walters as a rich Las Vegas celebrity seeking to exploit his relationship with Davis out of greed. Walters' paper trail sealed his conviction, the report said.
"Billy Walters is a cheater and a criminal, and not a very clever one," U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel said. "The crime was amateurishly simple."
A call to Walters Group in Henderson, Nev., for comment was not returned. It was unclear what Walters' status with the business is in light of his sentence.
In July 2016, Walters gave a lengthy interview to Automotive News. He declined to discuss his indictment then and spoke only fleetingly about his gambling past. But in his Southern drawl, showing the occasional flash of subtle humor, the Kentucky native spoke extensively about his history and plans for auto retailing.
"Whatever success I've had in life I owe to the automobile business," said Walters, 69, at the time and chairman of Walters Group. "It was my MBA. It was my college."
Lifetime of gambling
Walters, who with his partners owned 18 dealerships, had been a gambler and entrepreneur since before he was 10. In 2010, he won $3.5 million betting on the Super Bowl, according to a report on CBS' "60 Minutes."
Last year, he said, his dealerships sold about 28,800 new and used vehicles. To grow that number, he said he hoped to buy more stores, especially in the Southeast. At the time of the interview, his business empire included:
• Seven dealerships in Kentucky
• Seven dealerships in California
• Four dealerships in Georgia
• Two golf courses in Las Vegas
• A Budget Rent a Car franchise at San Diego International Airport
• Restaurants, commercial and residential real-estate holdings nationwide.
In May 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported that Walters had met Mickelson in the early 1990s in Las Vegas. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that in July 2012, Walters pushed Mickelson to buy Dean Foods stock based on inside information Walters had about the spinoff of one of its divisions. Mickelson earned nearly $1 million in profits selling the stock after it surged on the spinoff news, which he used to repay a gambling debt to Walters.
Mickelson agreed to turn over to the SEC slightly more than $1 million based on his profits, plus interest, while Walters faced indictment for allegedly profiting and avoiding losses of $40 million based on "numerous illegal tips he got about the company."