Arizona Racing Official Dismissed Over Turf Paradise Licensing

The governor of Arizona has reportedly dismissed Racing Department director Jim Higginbottom over a controversy involving the background check and subsequent licensing of Turf Paradise owner Jeremy E. (Jerry) Simms.

The Arizona Republic reported that Gov. Jane Hull fired Higginbottom after apparently agreeing with a Gaming Department investigator's conclusions about how the background check of Simms was conducted.

Brian Callaghan, a gaming investigator, said in a memo to his boss that racing officials overlooked serious problems in Simms' background before licensing him to operate the state's largest non-Indian wagering business, the Republic reported. According to the newspaper, Callaghan concluded that racing officials were "very lenient" in finding Simms and his partnership, TP Racing LLLP, suitable as owners.

Simms, who acquired Turf Paradise from Hollywood Park earlier this year, was issued a three-year permit by the racing commission to operate Turf Paradise and off-track wagering venues statewide. The Gaming Department has yet to rule on a license request for Turf Paradise to conduct off-track betting at Indian casinos.

Simms' background includes sworn admissions that he paid bribes during a California political corruption scandal. He also has ongoing financial entanglements with Allen Glick, once a powerful Las Vegas casino owner who fronted for organized crime, the Republic reported.

According to the Republic, in an Aug. 4 memo Callaghan said Racing Department investigators:

--Failed to secure Simms' fingerprints for a statute-required criminal-background check through the FBI.

--Neglected to verify the source of funds used to purchase Turf Paradise or to review financial statements from Simms. As a result, racing authorities did not detect Simms' relationship with Glick.

--Did not review 1996-98 tax returns in which Simms wrote off gambling losses. ("These tax write-offs do not appear legitimate," Callaghan added.)

Steve Lump, chief investigator for the Racing Department, called Callaghan's critique a "complete mischaracterization," according to the newspaper.

Lump said the Racing Department probe was "competent and substantial" and that Simms is a suitable gambling proprietor despite his grand jury testimony, his association with Glick, and other background issues, the paper reported. Lump said all of Simms' financial records were reviewed and verified and that repeated attempts to obtain prints from Simms were unsuccessful because his fingers lack sufficient definition. Lump also told the newspaper he began he began investigating Click's background as soon as the relationship with Simms was pointed out.

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