A-League spot-fixing scandal: Shadowy crime boss dubbed the ‘Controller’ ran scheme from South America

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Sarah Blake
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Three players have been arrested by NSW Police.

A shadowy South American crime figure directed a spot-fixing scheme that NSW Police allege wound in at least three A-League players whose arrests a week out from the game’s grand final has left soccer reeling.

Former Chelsea player and Macarthur FC captain Ulises Davila allegedly paid teammates Kearyn Baccus and Clayton Lewis up to $10,000 a yellow card in a betting plot that led to hundreds of thousands of dollars being paid out in overseas winnings, mainly in South America.

Police allege the trio has “betrayed the trust of their supporters”.

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It is alleged that under direction from the South American gangster they dubbed the “controller”, Davila successfully manipulated the number of yellow cards during two matches in November and December last year.

Assistant Commissioner Michael Fitzgerald said five search warrants were served across Sydney on Friday morning, with police seeking a fourth Macarthur Rams player who was currently interstate and would be extradited if they did not return voluntarily in coming days.

Police from the NSW State Crime Command’s organised crime squad gaming unit swooped on Friday morning out of concern some of those involved would attempt to leave the country, Mr Fitzgerald said.

“We will allege that those players intentionally gave out yellow cards.. for the purpose of a corrupt payment,” he said.

“Police have also charged the senior leader of that football criminal group with a further charge of engaging in conduct that corrupted a betting outcome for another game in November 2023.”

No other football clubs were involved in the scheme, which was detected after Strike Force Beaconview was established in December.

It’s alleged the players were involved in yellow card manipulation.
It’s alleged the players were involved in yellow card manipulation. Credit: Paramount Plus

Davila allegedly paid the other two players up to $10,000 for yellow cards in matches in November and December, and attempted unsuccessfully to swing games on April 20 and May 4, Supt Peter Faux said.

“Between November and May of this year, we’re alleging that a senior player within a an elite team was in communication with a South American person offshore who we’re referring too as a controller, or co-ordinator,” he said.

“That person was requesting that senior member of an elite team to ensure that certain events occurred within games to permit illegal gambling on those events occurring.”

Davila was the only player in the named trio to be handed a yellow card when Macarthur drew 1-1 with Melbourne Victory in round five at Campbelltown Stadium on Friday, November 24.

Three weeks later, all three players were among five in the Macarthur side given yellow cards when they prevailed 2-0 over Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on Saturday, December 9.

Macarthur FC expressed dismay at the arrests and said the “integrity of our game is a foundation pillar”.

“The club is shocked and aware of the arrests of three A-League players by NSW Police as a result of international law enforcement co-ordination focused on betting corruption related to alleged yellow card manipulation in games,” the club said in a statement.

Ulises Davila and Kearyn Baccus in action for Macarthur FC.
Ulises Davila and Kearyn Baccus in action for Macarthur FC. Credit: Jeremy Ng/AAPIMAGE

Mexican star Davila, 33, is one of the A-League’s biggest earners, having been drafted to the south-west Sydney club in 2021 on a three-year, $2 million contract.

He is a single father to son Uly, 4, after the shock death of his wife, Lily Pacheco in May 2022 from a heart attack and has spoken publicly about the challenges of raising him alone.

South African-born midfielder Baccus, 32, is reportedly also on a mid-six figure salary. The older brother of Soccerroo Keanu Baccus, he was raised in western Sydney after the family emigrated when the brothers were both young children.

New Zealand international Lewis, 27, reportedly makes more than $450,000 a year and has been linked with Optus Sport commentator Narelle Sindos. Her Instagram shows a photo of him proposing to her in Los Angeles last year.

All three of the players were arrested in dawn raids on Friday and charged at separate police stations later in the day. They received police bail and will appear at separate courts later this month and in June.

All three of the players were arrested in dawn raids on Friday.
All three of the players were arrested in dawn raids on Friday. Credit: NSW Police

Speaking at NSW police headquarters in Parramatta, Mr Fitzgerald said the charges had the potential to ruin the lives and careers of the players involved and that they had allegedly betrayed supporters.

“All sports fans understand that even one penalty can change the way a game flows and also the way the momentum of that game can be carried out,” he said.

“And whilst $10,000 may seem a lot of money to a young sportsperson, we will advise that it is incredibly insignificant when you consider the damage that being charged with this offence, and convicted, will result in the damage to that young person’s reputation, the damage to their club and their code’s reputation, their livelihood and their future livelihood and the effect by being involved in these criminal acts.

“But, more importantly, it affects the confidence and trust that their supporters have in these young sportspeople, that they will always play to their best of their ability.

“There’s a high level of temptation that criminals will try and request young players to engage in criminal activities.

“We are confident that the vast majority of young people engaged in sport are not undertaking criminal work for organised crime rings.”

Narelle Sindos Optus Sport soccer presenter is the  partner of Clayton Lewis.
Narelle Sindos Optus Sport soccer presenter is the partner of Clayton Lewis. Credit: Instagram

Police will now examine all the players financial dealings as part of a probe that includes the NSW Crime Commission.

“We’re going to go a step further now,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

“We’ve engaged the NSW Crime Commission in relation to looking at the finances of these people.

“I think it’s important to understand that this isn’t a matter of luck by the NSW Police stumbling onto it. We have a squad that specifically looks at this stuff, a team of specialised ... techies and analysts, and we work closely with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (and) Sports Integrity Australia.”

Sports Integrity Australia said it acted on information from a UK agency working with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission on their investigation.

Police attached to Strike Force Beaconview, established by the organised crime squad’s gaming unit and assisted by the UK Gambling Commission, conducted the simultaneous raids across Sydney.

Police are now examining all the players’ financial dealings as part of a probe that includes the NSW Crime Commission.
Police are now examining all the players’ financial dealings as part of a probe that includes the NSW Crime Commission. Credit: NSW Police

Davila was arrested at South Coogee and charged with two counts of engaging in conduct that corrupts a betting outcome of an event, facilitating conduct that corrupts the betting outcome of event, and participatuing in a criminal group. He was granted bail and will appear in Downing Centre Local Court on June 24.

Baccus was arrested at West Hoxton and Lewis in Parramatta. Both were charged with engaging in conduct that corrupts the betting outcome of event, and participating in a criminal group. The pair was bailed and will appear in court in May and June respectively.

Football Australia said it was aware of the allegations and was “fully co-operating” with police.

“Football Australia will provide no further comments at this stage as the investigation is ongoing.”

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