Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

The University of Iowa and Iowa State University wrestling teams were hit hard by the state’s sports-gambling investigation. The Hawkeyes lost four key cogs in their lineup; the Cyclones lost a Big 12 champion.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation probe resulted in two dozen athletes and student-managers facing criminal charges and led to NCAA investigations and suspensions. All of the Iowa and ISU wrestlers caught up in the probe are expected to miss the entire season due to NCAA ineligibility.

More:Iowa lawmakers worried about privacy rights after allegations against sports betting probe

This week’s developments in the gambling saga make those penalties even more difficult to swallow. A new court filing alleges that DCI officials lied to their own agents to push forward the controversial investigation. The news came a day after a defense attorney accused DCI agent Brian Sanger of conducting a “warrantless” investigation into underage betting on the Iowa and ISU campuses.

“I knew this thing was a mess, and I knew it was mismanaged and I knew it was mishandled,” Iowa State wrestling coach Kevin Dresser said this week. “I’m glad it’s coming to light now, and I hope all these athletes at Iowa and Iowa State take the state of Iowa to the cleaners. I really do.”

Dresser’s team is having a strong season but potentially would be even better had it not lost Paniro Johnson to the gambling investigation. He won a Big 12 championship and was an NCAA Championships qualifier last season.

Paniro Johnson, a Big 12 champion for Iowa State, reached the semifinals of the Junior men's freestyle national championships at USA Wrestling's U.S. Open in Las Vegas.

“It’s a good thing Paniro has thick skin and he’s been through what he’s been through in his life,” Dresser said. “There were some dark days for him. …

“I had phone calls that morning (last spring) from three or four of my athletes, saying ‘Coach, I’ve got some guy here that wants my phone. He’s got some piece of paper that says he can take my phone.’ My advice at that time was, let’s get an attorney. But they didn’t. It was bully these kids at 7 o’clock on a Monday morning, and here we are.”

Brands’ Iowa team, meanwhile, lost All-Americans Tony Cassioppi and Nelson Brands and NCAA qualifiers Abe Assad and Cobe Siebrecht to the gambling probe and resulting NCAA ineligibility.

“The way that is is described, basic liberties were infringed upon,” Tom Brands said this week. “That shouldn’t happen in this country. It shouldn’t happen in the state of Iowa.”

The suspended wrestlers are continuing to work out and stay in shape, preparing for the unlikely event that the NCAA will change its mind on their cases.

“I know one thing, we got a lot of guys upstairs that are ready to go because of what happened,” Tom Brands said. “We got guys that were impacted and are still being impacted by that that are still ready to go because of the way we talked to them. You never know what will happen. Be ready. Cassioppi, be ready. Nelson Brands, be ready. Cobe Siebrecht, be ready.”

Prosecutors in Johnson and Story counties have charged 25 current or former Iowa and Iowa State athletes and student managers as a result of the investigation. Sixteen of those athletes have pleaded guilty, according to the DCI. Many of those athletes pleaded guilty to underage gambling, agreeing to pay fines of $645. Seven cases are still pending.

The investigation and charges have drawn criticism, including from the state’s then-top gambling regulator, who told a parent that “a lot of people don’t agree with how things were handled.”

The fact that this week’s developments put some heat on the DCI’s investigation is small consolation to the Cyclone and Hawkeye athletes who planned to compete at the highest level of college wrestling but instead are on the sidelines. Dresser predicted, though, that the athletes might end up with some compensation after all the dust is settled.

“I’m glad it came to light,” Dresser said. “I’m glad these kids are going to get some justice. There’s going to be some checks written, probably big checks.”

The Register’s Tyler Jett, Randy Peterson and Eli McKown contributed to this report.

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