By Natalie Johnson / firstname.lastname@example.org
A former Chehalis man made his first appearance this week in Lewis County Superior Court on suspicion of running an illegal multi-million dollar sports gambling operation based in Lewis County and spending the last nine years since the ring was discovered living in South America.
Ronald W. Ehli, 58, was charged Wednesday in Lewis County Superior Court with second-degree professional gambling and unlawfully transmitting or receiving gambling information.
Ehli made his first appearance in Lewis County Jail custody, but is scheduled to be released on $10,000 unsecured bail, as requested by Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher at the hearing Wednesday.
“I don’t think he’s a violent guy,” Meagher said. “He doesn’t have a passport — he can’t go anywhere.”
Ehli’s wife reportedly lives in Nicaragua, where they own a home.
The charges against Ehli were originally filed in 2008 by then-prosecutor Michael Golden.
According to court documents, a special agent with the Washington State Gambling Commission’s Criminal Intelligence Unit began investigating a website called Sportsbetting.com in March 2008. He was reportedly able to make bets and withdraw his winnings.
In July 2008, he requested and received a check for his winnings. The check was signed by Ehli, according to court documents.
The agent traced the check to an account belonging to EZPay Financial Services, which was registered to Ehli and based on Boistfort Street in Chehalis.
Agents visited the office in September 2008 and interviewed two employees, who were reportedly in charge of transferring funds related to the operation, according to court documents. A computer was seized and data was collected.
One employee told investigators Ehli had recently moved to Costa Rica.
Chehalis Police also assisted with the investigation. At the time, Ehli had no known criminal history.
Since then, prosecutors believed Ehli was living in South America. A nation-wide warrant was issued for his arrest.
Investigators seized close to $5 million from the gambling operation as ill-gotten gains, Meagher said.
About a month ago, Meagher said, Ehli was detained by the U.S. State Department at the Nicaragua border after questions arose about his passport.
“I got a call that he was trying to get to Nicaragua,” Meagher said. “I just said, ‘You’ve got to get him inside the U.S. border.’”
Agents called Lewis County after discovering the warrant, and revoked Ehli’s passport. He was transported to Florida where the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office took him into custody.
His next court hearing is scheduled for May 25.