The four Maryland men charged in a gambling case involving quarterback Art Schlichter of the Baltimore Colts pleaded innocent today in U.S. District Court.
Judge John D. Holschuh set June 6 as the trial date. None of the four men made any statements during their brief arraignment. They avoided reporters after the hearing by leaving through an underground parking garage.
Defense attorneys said afterward the life of Schlichter, a former Ohio State all-America, is in no danger insofar as their clients are concerned.
Schlichter, who is said to be in protective custody in this central Ohio area, was not present, nor was he represented, at the arraignments. He is not charged with any crime. Published reports quoting unnamed sources this week said that Schlichter, 22, feared for his life.
Schlichter allegedly lost $389,000 betting on basketball games from January to March. He contacted the FBI March 15 when he allegedly still owed the four men $159,000, according to federal law enforcement officials and published reports. His attorney says Schlichter went to the FBI when the men threatened to tell the Colts of his gambling, and that since then Schlichter has cooperated with the FBI in its investigation of the alleged gambling operation.
Harold E. Brooks Jr., 26, of Baltimore; Joseph A. Serio, 24, of Baltimore; Charles Thomas Swift, 41, of Baltimore County, and Samuel Richard Alascia of Catonsville pleaded innocent to all counts with which they are charged.
Brooks was charged with five counts, Serio and Alascia three each and Swift one. The counts include a charge of traveling in interstate commerce to promote a gambling activity.
The judge continued bond today at $25,000 each for Brooks and Alascia, $15,000 for Serio and $2,500 for Swift.
In another development, the Chicago Tribune reported that Schlichter is involved in a debt-incurring land partnership with his father Max.
Schlichter's father took out loans Feb. 28 that put him more than $1 million in debt, according to Fayette County land records reported Tuesday night by NBC affiliate WCMH-TV in Columbus.
The station reported that Schlichter and his father formed a partnership Feb. 11 called DECA, Ltd., to buy or lease farm equipment and land. The father put up $100 and his son invested $50,000.
On Feb. 28, the elder Schlichter took out two mortgage loans on the same piece of land in his hometown of Bloomingburg. The first loan was for $702,000 from the Federal Land Bank. The second was for $141,670 from the Farmers Home Administration.
Nine smaller loans over a period of months put the Schlichter debt at more than $1 million, an amount considered by the Ohio State agriculture extension service "a potentially dangerous amount of credit in these times," the Tribune reported.
Max Schlichter, who reportedly leases more land than he farms, was not available for comment.
Howard Cardin, a Baltimore lawyer and defense attorney for Alascia, said he expected Schlichter to be a part of the trial, but didn't know what specific role he would play. "At this point," Cardin said, "it would seem that Mr. Schlichter would be a government witness instead of a defense witness."
Chris Barnes, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, who is in charge of a federal grand jury investigation, replied, "I have no comment on anything concerning the case," when asked if Schlichter would be called as a government witness.
Barnes was repeatedly questioned about Schlichter's involvement, and the nature of the ensuing trial, but refused comment before leaving the U.S. District Court at noon.