Sunday, August 22, 1999
Bookie's regret: Rose as client
BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FRANKLIN, Ohio Ron Peters has learned his lesson. That lesson, however, deals not with the dangers of gambling, but the perils of paper trails.
Pete Rose's confessed bookmaker fully intends to resume the lucrative career that led to his landing in jail. Only this time, he plans to cover his tracks more carefully.
There's going to be illegal gambling from now on until eternity, Peters said. And I'm going to be part of it. This time, though, it will be on a much smaller scale. I don't want that type of high-profile client any more.
Though the 42-year-old Peters says his life is now back on track, he has been derailed for most of the last decade. His cooperation helped build baseball's case against Rose, but it could not save him from prison, bankruptcy, drug dependency and despair.
Peters' Franklin restaurant, Jonathan's Cafe, is now a pizza parlor. His permanent address is his parents' house in Franklin, though he says he also lives beneath the shadow of a million dollar tax lien.
In July 1989, Peters reported to the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., to serve concurrent two-year tax and drug trafficking sentences. Upon release, he drifted through a series of unsatisfying jobs.
These were jobs that were paying me annually what I used to bet on one game, he said. I went through a lot of them.
This, he said, led to bouts of depression, cocaine experimentation and, ultimately, cocaine dependency. He began writing bad checks to sustain his drug habit and completed a second jail sentence this springfor grand theft of a friend's automobile. His second marriage has ended in divorce, and his visitation rights to his 6-year-old daughter are in dispute.
One thing after another, Peters said. I was trying to live the same lifestyle on no money. That didn't work out.
It's just been a tough time for him since that (the Rose case) occurred, said attorney Alan Statman. I think the notoriety has had its toll.
Pete Rose has borne the most public burden of all the characters in this labyrinthine morality play, but the chain of events that led baseball to banish its hit king also has made a profound impact on several less celebrated lives. If not for his relationship with Mr. Rose, Ron Peters thinks his illegal prosperity might have continued indefinitely beneath the radar of the Internal Revenue Service.
I believe to this day that if he hadn't been a client of mine, I'd still be doing what I was doing, Peters said. I had everything. I had the world by the (tail). In a small town, I had a restaurant/bar that was grossing $1 million a year. My clientele was anybody and everybody in Franklin everyone from hod carriers to lawyers. Everyone knew what I was doing (with gambling) even the police chief.
Peters purchased costly cars including a Jaguar and a Corvette and paid for them with cash. He owned a $200,000 home in West Chester. His 1985 federal tax return showed an income of less than $26,000, but IRS agent Lowell Wood testified Peters failed to report more than $80,000 in gambling income for that year.
None of these activities would have come to light, Peters believes, if not for baseball's investigation into Rose's gambling and the government's concurrent concerns about Rose's cash flow.
I went through a lot, Peters said, and it was all because of that the Pete Rose incident; what I call being "infamous.' It took 10 years, but I'm back on track.
Peters is presently employed by AA Promotions, a marketing company that conducts super sales at various automobile dealerships around the country. He credits company President Alan Aronson with reconfiguring his life.
He's really put me on my feet and made me the happy guy I am today, Peters said. Good friends and good family have put me in the position I am now. That means a lot. If it weren't for them, there's no telling where I'd be locked up forever, maybe dead.
Peters' work for AA Promotions involves acting as a closer in a high-volume operation that has been set up this weekend at a Chevrolet dealership in Troy, Ohio. Next week, the show moves to Union Nissan in Waukegan, Ill., then it's on to North Palm Beach, Fla. On a recent Florida trip, Aronson escorted Peters to Pete Rose's Ballpark Cafe in Boca Raton. Rose was out.
Ron's very good at his job, Aronson said. The type of person he is, you can tell he has a good heart. The only person he continues to hurt is himself. He's got to recognize that he has to continue to battle his (drug) affliction. That's for life.
Peters says he has succeeded in putting his drug problems behind him. When he looks ahead, it is with anticipation rather than dread.
My goal right now is to keep saving money and move down to Florida, Peters said. Then, I'm going to join a country club and start doing it (bookmaking) again. That country club atmosphere is where you get your clientele.
Peters was an assistant golf pro at Cincinnati's Beckett Ridge Country Club when he began to see the revenue potential in booking the members' bets. He was fired in 1981 following allegations that he had settled debts by giving away merchandise from the club's pro shop. Peters filed suit, claiming he had been defamed. The case was settled out of court.
He subsequently opened Jonathan's Cafe the restaurant was named for his son with the money he made from bookmaking.
On his best day, Peters said, he cleared $98,000 when all the big college bowl games went his way. He also lost as much as $50,000 in a day. The money flowed so freely through his hands, Peters said, that when a woman called to say her husband had blown his paycheck betting, Peters refunded $2,600 with the stipulation that the man not seek to make any more action.
Most people's perception of a bookie is a big fat bald-headed guy in the back of a bar, Peters said. But most of my clients were business owners. Ninety percent of them paid up. If someone didn't pay, one thing I'd do is call their wife and ask for the money or call them at work. We didn't go out breaking legs. All (violence) does is put you out of business.
Peters says he took Rose's business, despite the star's reputation for payment problems, only after insisting he put up $10,000 in earnest money.
Pete was a good customer, Mr. Peters said. He wasn't my biggest customer. He'd play six or eight games a night at $2,000 a game. He didn't bet (baseball) for a long time. But he lost on college basketball, college football, the NFL .... He had lost tens of thousands of dollars. I think what happened is he said, "Why not bet something I know?'
Rose has never admitted to betting on baseball. Peters maintains Mr. Rose did bet on games, including Reds games, and that he bet baseball so successfully Peters felt compelled to cut him off. Randy Kaiser, an acquaintance of another Peters client, Paul Janszen, told baseball investigators in 1989 that Rose had discussed injuring Peters' son as a means of persuading him to settle a $50,000 debt.
Whatever friction existed between the two men, neither was prepared for the relationship going public. When baseball security chief Kevin Hallinan and an associate appeared unexpectedly at Jonathan's Cafe and began asking questions, Peters initially told them nothing. He quickly called his attorney, Statman, and attempted to call Rose to warn him of the investigation.
Later, Peters attempted to sell his story to various media organizations, and reporters soon descended on Franklin to find what could be found out for free.
I'm walking out of my building and there are four semis pulled up CBS, NBC, ABC and ESPN, Mr. Peters said. (ESPN's) Charlie Steiner asked me if Ron Peters was around. I said, "He's not now, but he'll probably be here soon.'
Once, when reporters traced Peters to his attorney's office, he wound up climbing out a window to avoid them. Another time, Peters took his fiancee and her parents to a restaurant in Covington and a fellow diner offered $20 for his autograph.
I get this perverted respect, Mr. Peters said. To me, I was an average guy having fun and I just happened to have a high-profile client.
Even behind bars, Peters' reputation preceded him. He was assigned Rose's No. 14 on the prison softball team and established betting lines on their games.
They expected that from me, Peters said. They'd bet a pack of cigarettes or ice cream. A big bet was a roll of quarters.
Peters hid his winnings beneath the gravel behind the prison putting green, and would slip the cash to his then-fiancee during visits.
This small-stakes gambling helped keep Peters entertained, but he quickly tired of Terre Haute and volunteered to help build a new prison in Ashland, Ky. There, he says, he spent 41 days in solitary confinement for my own protection when prison authorities believed an attack on another inmate was intended for Peters.
I never thought I'd go to prison, Peters said. To me, it wasn't that big a deal. I figured they'd make me pay (back taxes) and that would be it. I lied on my taxes. Who doesn't do that?
Unfortunately, I didn't have anybody big to give them (the government). They wanted to know if Pete was financing a drug ring. If he was, I don't have any evidence of it. Not once did they charge me with gambling. They didn't care.
Peters makes no secret of his intention to resume bookmaking because he is convinced it is a crime few law enforcers are interested in solving. The proliferation of legal gambling state lotteries, casinos, etc. has blurred the distinction between what is condemned and what is condoned. It has emboldened Ron Peters to embark on his old career.
It (bookmaking) was everything to me, he said. It was my life. I was good at it. I made a lot of money, and I met a lot of people.
He met disaster in the person of Pete Rose. Ron Peters has resolved to choose his clients more carefully next time.
Rose Special Report