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"He's a 22-year-old nationally recognized sports celebrity who doesn't smoke, drink or use drugs, who respects and obeys his parents. He is an Ohio State All-American athlete with an All-American personality and you'll love his story."
Art Schlichter's story isn't so lovely anymore. On March 15 in Columbus, Ohio, he told FBI agents that he'd paid Baltimore bookmakers $220,000 to settle sports bets he'd lost, plus another $10,000 for one week's interest on that sum, and still owed them $159,000. Now, he said, he wanted help. He said the bookies had threatened to go to his NFL team, the Colts, and blow the whistle on him unless he paid up. He agreed to cooperate in rounding up the bookies and bringing them to trial.
The FBI assigned an undercover man, Stephen A. Glaser, to play the part of Schlichter's friend and act as a go-between with the bookies. Schlichter gave their names as Sammy and Sid. Federal agents checked phone records for January and February and found numerous calls from Schlichter's telephone in Columbus to two numbers in the Baltimore area. One was the home phone of Samuel R. Alascia of Catonsville, Md., Schlichter's Sammy; the other, was the number at Alascia's business, a Baltimore meat distributorship known as Golden Home Meat Service. The FBI also obtained records of three calls from the Meat Service number to Schlichter. Privately, the agents wondered how Schlichter, a rookie backup quarterback for the Colts in 1982, could have been such a lousy bettor, how he could have lost $220,000 plus interest between Jan. 1 and March 1 and another $159,000 in eight days, March 1 to 8, as he said he did.
By late March the Bureau had monitored four calls between Sid (later identified by the FBI as Harold E. Brooks Jr., 26, of Baltimore, an employee of Golden Home Meat Service) and Glaser, setting up a payment schedule for Schlichter. Glaser's statement on a complaint sheet issued on April 1 says that Sid verified Schlichter's avowal that the $159,000 debt was the result of basketball bets. Glaser got the $10,000 interest already paid knocked off the outstanding balance, reducing Schlichter's debt to $149,000, which would be paid in three installments between April 1 and 15.
The first installment was to be handed over at 10:15 a.m. on April 1 in Port Columbus International Airport. Glaser would appear ready to fill an empty briefcase brought by the bookies with $65,000 in 50s and 100s. Then the FBI would move in.
At 10:07 a.m. on Good Friday or April Fools' Day, depending on how you look at it. Brooks, Joseph A. Serio, 24, a Baltimore food salesman, and Charles Thomas Swift, 41, a Baltimore County fireman and Brooks's prospective brother-in-law, stepped off USAir Flight 269 at Gate 11. Also on board had been an FBI agent. The trio walked into the main terminal area, stopped in front of the video-games parlor and waited for Glaser to come out of the snack bar across the way, as arranged. He appeared on schedule, presumably with the $65,000, and the party made its way through the terminal, toward the escalators that lead to the baggage-claim area. Serio, carrying the empty briefcase, trailed the other three by 10 to 15 yards. His job was to watch out for any law enforcement officials, but he somehow failed to notice 10 FBI agents who filtered out of the snack bar and followed the group through the concourse. The Bureau, ready for anything, had a total of 14 men at the airport.
Just after passing The Buckeye, an airport bar, agents swooped in on Brooks and Swift and handcuffed them. No guns were drawn. Serio, seeing the commotion, kept walking along, casually. He reached the escalator and stopped beside a corn plant to look back at his colleagues. At this point another agent rushed up to him, pushed him against a large Coke display, searched him and handcuffed him.
Forty yards away, at a gift shop called Paradies Airport Shops, a likeness of Art Schlichter serenely took in the action. Prominently displayed at Paradies, as it has been for years, is an artist's sketch of Schlichter in his Ohio State football uniform. A play from the 1980 Rose Bowl is diagrammed on a blackboard. Next to it is a manikin wearing No. 10, Schlichter's number at Ohio State. Most of the jerseys on sale at Paradies bear the number 10.
Airport Police Officer Larry Lager, who witnessed the arrests, said airport security had been notified at 8 o'clock that morning that FBI agents would be there but hadn't been given any details. He said that usually the FBI approaches a suspect quietly and walks him away without any handcuffing. "This time they really came out of their shell..." he said. "I've never seen so many badges flying." When Serio was arrested it was just like in the movies, with the FBI agent saying, "This is the FBI. Put your hands on the glass!" The glass was the Coke display.
"All those FBI agents," says a lawyer for one of the defendants. "Jesus Christ, they must have thought they had 'Scarface' Al Capone or something."