Bookies Behaving Badly, Part 13: The Curious Case of the Clueless Culosi

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Police say Dr. Salvatore J. "Sal" Culosi Jr. was a bookie behaving badly.

Behaving so badly, in fact, that they shot him dead.

But was he really a bookie?

And did he really do anything so bad that it merited instant execution by police?

In Part 13 of Gambling911.com's ongoing series, "Bookies Behaving Badly," we look back at the curious case of Culosi, a clueless chump who succumbed when a bogus bookie blasted him with a bullet to the body.

Culosi, 37, was a low-rent eye doctor--an optometrist who operated out of a pair of Wal-Mart stores in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

He was also a sports bettor, specializing in college and pro football.

He was also, unbeknownst to him, betting with a bookie who was really an undercover cop for the Fairfax County, Va., Police Dept., which was investigating illegal sports betting in the area.

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006, the clueless Culosi and the undercover cop/bookie, who had met months earlier at a local sports bar and then started betting, set up a meeting at Culosi's home in Fairfax County to settle up for the week--Culosi had won $5,500 the prior weekend betting NCAA football and the NFL.

Culosi, barefoot and unarmed, was waiting outside his house at about 9:30 p.m. when his "bookie" drove up, got out of his vehicle and approached the delighted doc.

But instead of handing over a stack of $100 bills to Culosi, the bogus bookmaker identified himself as a police officer and announced that the football-betting physician was under arrest.

The arresting cop then signalled for backup and the police department SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team, which was staked out nearby, swooped in to assist in the arrest.

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, one of the SWAT officers, Deval Bullock, a 17-year SWAT veteran, fired a shot at Culosi from close range and hit him in the heart, killing him almost instantly.

The execution sparked local outrage: why was a SWAT team in on the arrest of a man with no history of arrests, weapons or violence, and who was accused of a non-violent offense?

Police said Culosi wasn't just a sports bettor, but was also a bookmaker himself.

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A major bookie in the region, the cops said, someone doing over $100,000 worth of betting business weekly.

But police never explained what evidence they had of that, as the undercover cop only booked Culosi's wagers and did not have Culosi book any of his wagers or act as bookie at any time.

Police also said the shooting was accidental, claiming that the SWAT officer who shot Culosi had bumped his elbow on his vehicle's door while aiming his pistol at the doctor and that led him to accidentally discharge his weapon, a handgun.

Culosi's family denied he was a bookie and sued the police department--the case was settled out of court and the family received $2 million.

The officer who did the shooting served a three-week unpaid suspension and then returned to work.

There was some good news out of the tragedy--the incident forced Fairfax County police to review and revise their policies concerning use of the SWAT team.

But there was no good news for the family of Dr. Sal Culosi Jr.

It's not clear whether Culosi even was a bookie.

If he wasn't, he shouldn't have been arrested.

And even if he was, he shouldn't have been shot and killed.

Bookie behaving badly?

In this case, it might just have been the Men in Blue who were behaving badly...and deadly.

By Tom Somach

Gambling 911 Staff Writer


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