It began as a seemingly harmless gamble. It ended like a movie of the week - complete with mobsters, loan sharks and talk of drug deals and a strongbox heist at a glittery hotel-casino.
Before it was over, a Shoshone Medical Center doctor had lost about $73,000. Stephen Coutts, 33, wired the money to Las Vegas to pay off a cadre of steamed bettors who supposedly had threatened a friend who ran a bookmaking business.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday the alleged Vegas bookie - Paul Ide, 39 - has been indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of wire fraud.
The indictment alleges Ide committed the crime between September and March. The felony carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
Ide lived in Las Vegas. He got to know Coutts about 18 months earlier when the doctor was placing sports bets overseas. Ide worked with a bet-making operation in the Caribbean, Coutts said.
According to Coutts, the story goes like this:
Ide lost his job and came to visit Coutts in Idaho last summer. When Ide returned to Vegas, he and Coutts decided they would make money by placing sports bets there. Each pitched in $25,000.
But sometime in September, Ide was unhappy because they were just breaking even, Coutts said. Ide called him with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“Things changed, and he started taking bets instead of making them,” Coutts said. “He already had my money at that point.”
And Coutts agreed that it was a better gamble. “Bet-makers make money,” he said. “Sports bettors usually don’t.” Ides told Coutts he had 15 clients.
The sweet deal soured one weekend during football season; bettors won big on a series of college and pro games.
“He basically got wiped out,” Coutts said. But instead of paying the winners, “he bet it on Monday night football and lost.”
Coutts said Ide called him asking for $23,000 to pay the winners, whom he claimed were involved with organized crime. Loan sharks “hunted and assaulted” Ide, Coutts said he was told. Coutts gave in and paid.
Then Ide allegedly began calling Coutts asking for more; he still was $20,000 short. The loan sharks charged 10 percent interest per week.
After six weeks of pleading for money, Ide allegedly said the mobsters were going to kill him. “He seemed genuinely scared that his life was in danger,” Coutts said.
The weeks passed.
“He threatened me, then. He said these loan sharks knew who I was.” To protect his wife and small child, Coutts wired $18,000. “If I was single, it would have been a lot different.” That was in November.
Then one day Ide told him the mobsters were willing to cut a deal for the balance. They would forgive the debt if Ide delivered a shipment of drugs.
“I told him, ‘Do whatever you have to do to pay off those guys,”’ Coutts said. “I’m out of the loop now.”
But Ide kept calling, saying he didn’t want to deliver any drugs. He wanted more money, Coutts said. The doctor gave in, and wired him $20,000. “He basically paid those guys off.”
Then Ide called with a new plan. One of the loan sharks had access to a safety deposit box at the Mirage Hotel, Ide claimed; for a bribe of $25,000, he could get at it. The box supposedly contained $200,000.
That’s when Coutts told the FBI, the DEA and his wife.
“Initially, they thought what I told them was a fairy tale,” Coutts said of authorities. Then he contacted the Nevada Division of Intelligence; the Nevada investigators got the FBI involved, Coutts said.
He doesn’t know which parts of Ide’s gambling yarn are true.
A release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boise said Ide admitted to paying loan sharks $31,700 and losing $40,600 gambling. He also admitted making up stories about the drug drop and strong box.
Coutts’ wife was shocked.
“You hear about other people on television getting caught in things like this, but you never think it will happen to you,” Dawn Coutts said. “After you’re done crying, it’s way too surreal.”
Ide now is behind bars in Arizona, said Barry McHugh, assistant U.S. attorney in Coeur d’Alene. McHugh is negotiating with Ide’s lawyers there. If unable to come up with a plea both sides accept, Ide’s case likely will be handled in Idaho.
FBI spokeswoman Dale Weiss wouldn’t comment on the case because it still is under investigation.
Coutts is not facing any charges.
He said the worst part was being betrayed. “When a friend deceives you, the loss is more than financial,” Coutts said.
He said he let Ide stay at his home. He diagnosed Ide’s diabetes. He talked to Ide’s father.
“I don’t plan on making any more friends,” Coutts said. “The friends I have now are the friends I’ll keep.”