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Columbus cop snagged in gambling and drug sting

Federal authorities say Columbus Police Det. Stevie Billups associated with felons and passed chips at the Hollywood Casino Columbus and twice acted as an armed guard for a known drug dealer as the man supposedly picked up cash and $40,000 worth of heroin.

The drug dealer, however, was participating in an FBI sting operation.

Billups, 48, has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted distribution of heroin and using a firearm during a drug trafficking crime. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on both counts. U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King on Monday ordered him held without bond.

Billups, a 21-year police veteran who makes $72,321 a year, was expected to be placed on administrative leave by the Columbus Police Division as soon as possible, said Columbus Police Sgt. Rich Weiner.

Billups’ attorney Mark Collins argued that federal investigators entrapped his client, a gambling addict who was motivated to get money so that he could keep on betting.

Casino Control Commission records show Billups visited the Columbus casino more than 100 times since it opened in October and he wagered $101,870, losing more than he won. Billups sometimes visited the casino while on duty and frequently pulled all-nighters there. He has filed for bankruptcy, is behind on loan payments, passed a bad check at Scioto Downs race track in January and saw his car repossessed in April.

Billups was paid $5,000 by the informant for acting as a guard during the supposed drug deals. “Detective Billups sold his badge for $5,000,” said Douglas Squires, a federal prosecutor.

The criminal complaint says Billups associated with felons and passed casino chips — taking chips from someone and cashing them in so the true owner can avoid the identification and financial reporting requirements for transactions of more than $10,000. The person who takes the chips is then paid a fee. Passing chips is a way to launder money.

Initially, authorities said they were investigating the drug dealer-turned-informant when they noticed Billups’ association with felons — including someone who was accused of aggravated murder — and willingness to pass chips. The Ohio Casino Control Commission, U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement and the FBI cooperated on the case.

The case may be the most serious criminal case to develop since Ohio opened casinos beginning in May 2012. Between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013, the OCCC reports that there were 168 criminal charges against 149 individuals stemming from illegal activity at the four casinos. One-third of the charges relate to cheating, 20 percent are theft cases and 15 percent are linked to under age entry or attempted entry.

Senate Bill 141, which is pending in the Ohio House, would make cashing in someone else’s chips to avoid financial reporting requirements a felony offense.

Rob Walgate of the Ohio Roundtable, which has consistently opposed establishing casinos, said gambling addictions and problems are a byproduct of casinos. “This is something that was inevitable. Families are going to continue to be torn apart by this. It’s just a sad and unfortunate reality,” he said.

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