Home » Iowa, Iowa State athletes sue state investigators over sports betting probe

Iowa, Iowa State athletes sue state investigators over sports betting probe


Twenty-six former University of Iowa and Iowa State athletes sued state law enforcement leaders Friday, alleging that investigators illegally inspected their cellphone use in a high-profile sports betting probe.

In a federal lawsuit, attorneys for the athletes said Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agents violated the U.S. Constitution by failing to get warrants before using software known as Kibana to check whether people were using betting apps inside university athletic buildings.

The software revealed the account numbers for apps like FanDuel and DraftKings that were being used inside the buildings. Based on that information, agents obtained warrants that required the sportsbooks to reveal the registered users for those accounts, as well as their betting activity.

More: ‘Fox watching the henhouse’: Is Iowa’s sports betting law too weak to prevent abuse?

Prosecutors charged 26 athletes with underage gambling or identify theft, based on evidence that they had used accounts registered to their parents or others.

In Friday’s lawsuit, attorneys for the athletes contend the Fourth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution prohibit police from using software like Kibana without a warrant. The athletes are suing the state of Iowa, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, the DCI and several agency officials.

“Due to DCI’s actions and/or failures to legally investigate the Plaintiffs, the Plaintiffs were all indicted and some were convicted, severely upending their lives, collegiate careers and future opportunities,” wrote the lawyers, Matt Boles and Van Plumb.

Previously: Iowa lawmakers fret about privacy rights after allegations against sports betting probe

The 26 plaintiffs include former Iowa State quarterback Hunter Dekkers, Iowa defensive lineman Noah Shannon and Iowa State defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike, whom the Denver Bronco drafted in 2022. The NFL suspended Uwazurike last year following news of the investigation, which revealed that he bet on Iowa State and Broncos games while a member of both teams.

Other plaintiffs include basketball and baseball players and wrestlers. Some of the plaintiffs did not face criminal charges as a result of the probe, but the NCAA suspended all of them for at least one season for violations of rules. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission stated last August that the investigation did not turn up evidence of point shaving, a practice in which athletes alter their performances to influence the outcome of bets.

Suits also claim investigators misled players

In addition to accusing the DCI of illegally using bet-tracking software, the players’ attorneys said several agents misled athletes during the investigation.

Previously, the lawyers said DCI Special Agent Mark Ludwick testified that, based on representations by his supervisor, he told Iowa State defensive lineman Isaiah Lee that Lee was not the target of an investigation. Instead, according to the lawyers, Ludwick told Lee that the DCI was investigating sportsbooks, like FanDuel and DraftKings. In fact, however, Lee was later charged.

In Friday’s lawsuit, the players’ attorneys alleged that Ludwick was not alone.

“Multiple DCI agents told Plaintiffs they were not the targets of the investigation but instead were only assisting in the investigation into the various sports betting companies,” the lawyers wrote.

Asked about this in an email Friday, Boles told the Des Moines Register that the other agents, like Ludwick, made those statements in depositions, which have not been publicly released. He did not name the agents.

“Several of the agents were told it was an action against DraftKings and (FanDuel) as (the agents) went about collecting the phones from the athletes,” Boles said.

Expert casts doubt on Fourth Amendment claim

Of the 26 athletes charged in the case, 19 pleaded guilty to underage gambling. A Story County prosecutor dropped charges against a former Iowa State defensive lineman after the prosecutor’s office missed a deadline to turn over a copy of the indictment against the athlete last fall.

The prosecutor then dropped charges against five former Iowa State athletes in March following the revelation that GeoComply, the provider of the Kibana software that DCI agents used, had cut off investigators’ access to the tool in the wake of negative public reaction to the betting cases.

A GeoComply employee wrote in a Jan. 25 email to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission that the DCI agents “may have exceeded the intended and outlined scope of its Kibana access-and-use privileges.” GeoComply, which contracts with major sportsbooks like FanDuel and DraftKings to track the locations of their users, has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Register.

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the athletes’ lawsuit Friday. In March, after the Story County prosecutor dismissed charges because of the GeoComply news, DPS Commissioner Stephan Bayens defended the investigation, writing in a statement that, “Throughout the investigation, agents conferred with legal experts.”

Internal emails the Register obtained through records requests show that GeoComply had encouraged the DCI to use Kibana to investigate illegal sports betting. The company held multiple training sessions with DCI agents in 2022, with GeoComply staff traveling to Des Moines for an in-person session in November of that year.

The company worked with law enforcement agencies in other states, too. Emails revealed that GeoComply hosted monthly conference calls for police agencies, explaining how they could use the software to spot bettors. GeoComply officials suggested to investigators that they look for betting activity in areas where gambling shouldn’t occur, such as in prisons or high schools.

According to an internal memo from DCI Special Agent Brian Sanger, who led the sports betting probe, a GeoComply employee also coached Iowa officials on how to write regulations that would let the company turn over information without a warrant.

Orin Kerr, a University of California, Berkekey, law professor and an expert on the Fourth Amendment, which provides protection against illegal search and seizure, told the Register that the DCI’s investigation did not appear to constitute an illegal seizure. Sports betting app users agree to let the app providers, like DraftKings and FanDuel, share their location. The providers then agreed to give the data to GeoComply, which agreed to give the information to law enforcement.

Tyler Jett is an investigative reporter for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at tjett@registermedia.com, 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett. He also accepts encrypted messages at tjett@proton.me.