From USC Football Player to Drug Lord: The Journey of Owen 'O-Dog' Hanson

Written by:
Published on:

(Associated Press) - The blackjack player was blowing through his money but it wasn't troubling him. He was anxious to empty his pockets.

Robert J. Cipriani had thrown out his usual game plan as he worked the neon-splashed rooms of Sydney's The Star Casino in August 2011. In the parlance of high-stakes gambling, Cipriani - a Philadelphia-born card player who dubbed himself "Robin Hood 702? because he funneled portions of his winnings to philanthropic causes - was known as a "shortstop."

It meant he cobbled winnings together with modest bets and refrained for make-it-or-break-it wagers. But in Australia he had decided to "leave it with the gambling gods," as he would explain later, uncharacteristically dropping maximum bets of $20,000 on every hand he played at the casino's VIP tables. He had a reason to want to lose. He didn't want to be involved anymore.

Within a few days, Cipriani's reckless run bottomed out: he purposely lost $2.5 million at the tables.

There was one small problem: it was not his money, but the illegal proceeds of an international drug and gambling operation.

The man who fronted the cash - Owen "O-Dog" Hanson - was banking on Cipriani to launder the millions through the casino. And now the kingpin was not happy. The card player's life was about get ugly.

On Friday, "O-Dog" Hanson was sentenced to 21 years in prison in a San Diego court room after pleading guilty to racketeering and drug distribution charges, the Los Angeles Daily News reported, ending the career of an unorthodox drug lord.

Born and raised in Southern California, Hanson had been a walk-on tight end on the 2004 championship-winning University of Southern California football team, a squad coached by current Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and featuring future NFL players Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. Hanson's rise from frat-boy jock to Porsche-driving crime boss began to unravel the day in 2011 gambler Cipriani lost his money in Sydney.

According to a Rolling Stone article from November 2016, Hanson started slinging drugs when he was at USC.

"If you wanted something you went to O-Dog," a former friend told the magazine. "Coke, steroids, you name it."

After college, Hanson got heavily involved in sports betting, working as a bookie for clients in Los Angeles.

"He ran his gambling business like drug dealers run the drug business," a former customer told Rolling Stone. "If you're short a little money they'll kill you - that's the attitude that he brought. It took all of us off guard. We are all educated . . . white dudes. We thought he was one of us, but he acted like an Italian gangster from Queens."

Hanson eventually branched into drug dealing. The federal government would later accuse him of trafficking in cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, MDMA, as well as selling anabolic steroids to pro athletes.

Court records indicate he collected around him a crew of enforcers with nicknames like "Tank" and "Animal." Hansen named his crew after himself: "O-Dog Enterprise." With his ill-gotten proceeds, Hanson built himself an opulent house in Redondo Beach, Calif., with a pool and the walls covered in silver-plated AK-47s pressed with the Louis Vuitton logo, Rolling Stone reported.

In June 2011, Hanson reached out to Cipriani, the card player, through a mutual acquaintance. When the two first met in Australia, Hanson presented himself as a legitimate wealthy investor interested in fronting cash for Cipriani's charity gambling.

"We went upstairs and he had a suitcase already just sitting there," Cipriani told the magazine. "He goes, 'Here, I'm gonna give you a million dollars.' And I said, 'Bro, you don't even know me and you're gonna give me a million dollars?'

"And he goes, 'Yeah, but I heard a lot about you, I have a feeling.' And I say, 'But you understand that there's a chance that I don't win?' He goes, 'Look, I'll tell you what, I believe in you so much. . .' And he opens this cabinetry that literally was stacked with $50 bills in Australian dollars. No locks, no keys, nothing! He grabs some more and says, 'I'm giving you a million and a half.'"

Hanson's idea was that the gambler could easily cash drug money into chips at a casino, play for a while, then cash out the winnings in return for a casino check. Hanson told Cipriani he could keep whatever he won for his charity; the rest would go back to Hanson.

But after playing some with Hanson's money, Cipriani began to suspect he was being used to funnel dirty cash. When the two men met up in Sydney in August 2011, he told Hanson he was uncomfortable with the arrangement when Hanson tried to hand him $2.5 million in cash for the tables.

"You have a beautiful wife," Hanson told the gambler, a subtle threat to Cipriani's wife back home. "You're going to do this, you understand?"

To get out of the situation, Cipriani proceeded to blow through Hanson's $2.5 million. When Hanson learned his money was gone, however, he began relentlessly threatening the gambler to pay him back. He said he would cut the gambler's throat in Sydney, bringing along an ex-MMA fighter to intimidate Cipriani, the card player told Austraila's 9 News.

Back in the states, the threats continued, according to court documents. In 2013, Hanson sent Cipriani and his wife a DVD. The disk included footage of two men being beheaded, one with a knife, the other with a chainsaw. A note was included with the DVD: "If you don't pay us our money, this will happen to you," according to prosecutors. The couple also spotted a man lurking outside their Santa Monica home.

Finally, Hanson paid an underling to find Cipriani's parents' graves in New Jersey, where the guy defaced the tombstones with red paint, Cipriani told 9 News. Hanson photoshopped himself into the pictures of the tarnished graves, then sent them to the gambler.

After the photos of the defaced graves, Cipriani contacted the FBI, helping investigators with an ongoing case against O-Dog Enterprise. Hanson was arrested in 2015. Eventually 19 other members of the crew were arrested on federal charges related to gambling and drug trafficking.

In January, Hanson pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to distribute drugs.

"It is difficult to understand how you got here," U.S. District Judge William Hayes told Hanson in court last Friday. "Other than greed."

Gambling News