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Ex-MGM exec Sibella gets probation, $9,500 fine in money laundering case

| By Jill R. Dorson
Wearing a navy blazer and a sombre expression, Scott Sibella said he was sorry. Minutes later, US District Court Judge Dolly M Gee sentenced Sibella to 12 months probation, a $9,500 fine and a $100 special assessment. And so ended the legal portion of Sibella's part in the Wayne Nix illegal gambling ring.
federal courthouse la sibella

Sibella was sentenced late Wednesday afternoon in the US District Court for the Central District of California.

The lightly attended event was speedy and without drama. Sibella was found guilty of one count of failing to file a suspicious activity report while employed by MGM Grand. He gave Nix, a known illegal bookmaker, $120,000 in exchange for a casino marker.

Sibella, the first to be sentenced in a wide-reaching federal investigation around Nix, stood, head slightly bowed during the 18-minute sentencing.

When he was allowed to speak, he said this: “I want to apologise to the court, my family, my friends, the casino industry. Committing this crime has turned my life upside down and I look forward to moving forward. And I promise you will never see me in this court for anything like this again.”

Sibella’s clean record helped him

The maximum sentence for the crime is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But, Gee said, given Sibella’s history of contributing to the community, the fact that he has no prior record and his willingness to own the crime, that she agreed with the lesser recommendation.

Those circumstances reduced the sentencing guidelines by four levels, Gee said. The one-year probation was the least amount Sibella could have been sentenced to. The $9,500 fine was the highest.

Sibella opted not to talk to the handful of media present following the sentencing. And his lawyer, Jeffrey Rutherford, spoke off the record. But Sibella’s lawyers shared a statement from him via email.

“I’m relieved to have this matter concluded and accept the terms imposed today by the court,” Sibella said. “As I have said throughout this investigation, I regret the pain this has caused my friends and family and am extremely grateful for those who chose to stand with me throughout these difficult times.

“The decision to plead to the single charge, for failing to file a suspicious activity report (SAR) at MGM Resorts in 2017, was not easily arrived at given the underlying facts and realities in this matter. I was charged from the very beginning for not filing a SAR, accepted a plea and have taken full and complete responsibility for what I did. I want to reiterate that by anything alleged, I gained no benefit – neither personal, professional or financial.”

During sentencing, Gee said that she had received a record 81 letters attesting to Sibella’s character.

“I don’t believe I have ever received so many letters in support,” she said.

Federal investigation catches ex-Ohtani interpreter, too

The US Probation Office recommended the sentence, which both the Department of Justice and Sibella agreed to.

In addition to probation and the fine, Sibella must perform 200 hours of community service and agree not to break the law.

Two hours before Sibella’s sentencing, the US Attorney’s office released the news that Ippei Mizuhara had agreed to plead guilty to charges of bank fraud and subscribing to a false tax return.

Mizuhara is baseball player Shohei Ohtani’s former interpreter and is accused of wiring $17m from Ohtani’s bank account to pay off an illegal bookmaker.

The cases both stem from a federal investigation into the Nix illegal gambling ring in Southern California. Mizuhara placed his bets with an illegal bookmaker believed to be Mathew Bowyer. But Rutherford said that is where the connection ends.

“Mr Sibella had no involvement in the bookmaking activities of Mathew Bowyer and nothing whatsoever to do with Ippei Mizuhara, the former interpreter of Shohei Ohtani,” Rutherford said in a written statement.

Details of what happened, timeline

Sibella’s world began to shift last fall, when he was terminated by Resorts World after it learned he was being investigated. Sibella agreed to plead guilty in the federal investigation last December.

According to his plea agreement, Sibella “was aware that Nix engaged in illegal bookmaking” beginning sometime in August 2017 or earlier. Sibella allowed Nix to continue to gamble and gave him “luxury perks”, as Gee called them.

The plea reveals that Sibella was aware that Nix and associates placed a $5m bet on the Super Bowl in January 2019. He also knew that Nix was betting $5,000 or more, which should have been flagged.

Sibella said he “heard that Nix was in the booking business” according to the plea. And Sibella “couldn’t figure out how he had all the money he gambled with”. But Sibella said he didn’t want to acknowledge the situation.

The duration of Sibella’s journey through the legal system was relatively short. He agreed to the plea agreement on 27 December 2023 and was sentenced less than five months later.

“I didn’t want to know because of my position,” Sibella said in the plea agreement. “In this business they [bookies] are a dime a dozen… I stay out of it. If we know, we can’t allow them to gamble. I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to know I guess, because he wasn’t doing anything to cheat the casino.”

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