Attorney for former Iowa State players says sports wagering case was 'warrantless' investigation

An attorney for former Iowa State players charged with illegal sports wagering has accused the state of launching a "warrantless" investigation in 2023 that targeted Iowa State and University of Iowa athletes "without reasonable cause," resulting in some to lose their remaining NCAA eligibility.

In a motion filed Monday, attorney Van Plumb, who represents former Iowa State football players Isaiah Lee and others charged in the sports wagering probe, cited recent depositions with agents from Iowa's Division of Criminal Investigation that outline how the inquiry began. Fifteen Iowa State and Iowa athletes, mainly football players, were charged last summer, primarily for making sports wagers on FanDuel or DraftKings under another person's account. Several of the athletes have pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of underage gambling.

The motion states that Brian Sanger, special agent for Iowa's Division of Criminal Investigation, obtained access to a software tool called Kibana that allowed him to view the use of online betting applications in certain facilities through a "GeoFence." Sanger allegedly first used the software to assess underage gambling at a freshman/sophomore dormitory at the University of Iowa, but eventually was told he could not pursue the inquiry.

Only after Sanger allegedly used the same software to place a GeoFence around an Iowa athletic facility, restricted to athletes, coaches and staff, did he receive "the green light to continue the investigation," the motion states.

"The result was the indictment of a handful of Iowa's Student Athletes even though the privacy of hundreds had been invaded," the motion reads. "During Special Agent Sanger's deposition on January 19, 2024, he stated that he cannot remember why he decided to conduct the warrantless searches but that he was concerned about things such as people infiltrating Iowa's sports team to gain insider information or match fixing."

A similar GeoFence was placed around Iowa State's athletic facilities, which eventually led to athletes being charged.

Athletes at Iowa and Iowa State faced charges of tampering with records -- for allegedly falsifying information used to register accounts on mobile sports wagering apps -- or underage gambling. Lee, a starting defensive lineman for ISU, left the team in August after being charged with tampering with records. Among the 115 bets he played on a mobile app, 12 were on Iowa State football games.

The motion filed Monday, seeking discretionary discovery, states that Sanger and a team of DCI agents acted "without reasonable cause," noting that no warrant, complaints or tips of illegal gambling had been obtained before they began the investigation. Plumb's filing also disputed Sanger's claim in his deposition that only athletes who wagered on accounts registered to other people were subject to criminal charges.

"There is a possibility that only high-profile athletes were targeted when charges were filed," the motion states.

In a statement to ESPN later Monday, Plumb said that "the motions are the direct result of information learned during the depositions ... wherein Special Agent Sanger chose to use software that allowed him to access people's private information without a warrant which raises Constitutional issues involving illegal searches and seizures."