Prosecutors drop charges against former Iowa State athletes in gambling investigation

Prosecutors have agreed to drop controversial gambling charges against four former Iowa State University student athletes, citing investigators' potentially inappropriate use of software for tracking use of betting apps.

Assistant Story County attorney Benjamin Matchan in a motion filed Friday asked a judge to drop the charges against Eyioma Uwazurike, Jirehl Brock, Paniro Johnson and Isaiah Lee. Matchan wrote that his office does not want to prosecute the case after attorneys for the defendants released an email this week from GeoComply, the maker of the software, to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, accusing the Division of Criminal Investigation of using it inappropriately.

GeoComply gave the DCI access to the program, Kibana, in 2022, allowing agents to see anonymized information about where users of sportsbooks like DraftKings and FanDuel placed bets from. According to a previous motion from defense attorneys, DCI Special Agent Brian Sanger used the software without a warrant to track bets made on cellphones at Iowa State University and University of Iowa athletic buildings, leading to the charges against the players.

Matchan said he contacted GeoComply this week to learn more about its decision to strip the DCI of the software, but had not heard back. Spokespeople for the DCI and GeoComply did not respond to the Des Moines Register's emails seeking comment earlier this week after the attorneys filed the letter as part of a motion to suppress the evidence Sanger used Kibana to gather.

The primary use of the software is to ensure bets are made from jurisdictions where sports gambling is legal, not as an investigative tool.

Former Iowa State foortball player Eyioma Uwazurike greets his attorney Van Plumb before a motion to dismiss hearing at Story County Courthouse on Oct. 20, 2023.
Former Iowa State foortball player Eyioma Uwazurike greets his attorney Van Plumb before a motion to dismiss hearing at Story County Courthouse on Oct. 20, 2023.

"The State no longer believes further prosecution in this matter is in the interests of justice," Matchan wrote in his motion Friday.

Brock is a former Iowa State running back, while Lee played defensive line. Johnson is a former Iowa State wrestler who has continued to participate in individual competitions this season. Uwazurike played defensive end for the school before the Denver Broncos drafted him in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Lawyer for ex-ISU player, now with Denver Broncos, planned to cross-examine DCI agent

The prosecutor’s decision comes four days before he and defense attorneys were scheduled to hold a hearing on the motion to suppress evidence in the cases at the Story County Courthouse. The defense attorneys alleged that DCI agents, in addition to conducting a warrantless search for online gambling activity, lied to the athletes about the fact that they were targets in a criminal investigation, obtaining incriminating statements from them.

According to a Jan. 23 court filing by Johnson's attorney, at least one agent, Mark Ludwick, testified in a deposition that he had assured a player he interviewed that he would not be prosecuted, based on representations from his supervisor, only to have that supervisor later praise him "for obtaining a confession."

Attorney Van Plumb, who represents Lee and Uwazurike, said he had planned to cross-examine Sanger, who led the investigation, in next week's hearing. According to previous motions, Sanger said during a January deposition that he did not request a warrant before using GeoComply’s software to check whether people placed online bets from inside Iowa State or Iowa athletics buildings.

Plumb said he received a call from Matchan an hour after he filed subpoenas Friday in connection with the hearing.

“They did not want to go forward with a motion to suppress hearing with everybody that was called to testify,” he said.

In addition to the motion to suppress, defense attorneys demanded that prosecutors turn over Sanger’s Kibana search history.

DCI says evidence obtained in 'constitutionally permissible manner'

The players’ lawyers have long argued that the DCI agents’ probe violated GeoComply’s terms of service. They said the company created the software to ensure sportsbooks like FanDuel and DraftKings complied with state gambling regulations.

The attorneys bolstered their argument in a motion Tuesday, when they shared the Jan. 26 email from a GeoComply representative to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. In the email, GeoComply Government Relations Director Gabrielle Angle wrote that the company would disable the DCI’s access to the software because “the DCI may have exceeded its intended and outlined scope of its Kibana access-and-use privileges.”

The DCI has previously defended its investigation. In a Jan. 31 statement, the DCI wrote that agents “conferred with legal counsel” to make sure their approach was legal before conducting the investigation.

“The evidence was obtained in a constitutionally permissible manner,” the statement said.

It did not identify the lawyer who advised the DCI. On Jan. 23, Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird in a statement to WHO-13 indicated it was not her office, adding that she was not concerned about whether the DCI acted under proper authority.

"Those cases aren't in my office," she said. "And my understanding was the investigation was done by (the Iowa Department of Public Safety), so they would be the ones that could answer that question."

According to defense attorneys' motions, GeoComply’s software showed Sanger sportsbook account numbers that had been used inside the athletics buildings. Investigators then obtained the names of the users linked to those accounts.

Based on that information, prosecutors charged some defendants with underage gambling for allegedly placing bets. Prosecutors also accused defendants of using FanDuel and DraftKings accounts registered to their parents or friends, charging them with identify theft, a felony.

Among the defendants whose charges were dropped Friday, the DCI accused:

  • Brock of placing about 1,300 bets for about $12,000.

  • Johnson of placing about 1,300 bets for about $46,000.

  • Lee of placing 115 bets for $885.

  • Uwazurike of placing 801 bets for about $21,400.

The DCI also accused Brock of placing bets on two Iowa State games he played in and Lee of placing bets on 12 in which he was involved. In addition, it accused Uwazurike of betting on two Iowa State games and five Denver Broncos games while a member of those teams.

Uwazurike remains suspended by the NFL, a league spokesperson told the Des Moines Register earlier this week.

DCI Assistant Director David Jobes previously told the Register that the investigation netted criminal charges against 24 athletes and student managers at Iowa State and Iowa. Of those, he said on Jan. 23, 16 defendants pleaded guilty to underage gambling. Prosecutors referred one case to juvenile court, where proceedings are private.

Prosecutors agreed in September to drop charges against former Iowa State tight end DeShawn Hanika after they missed a deadline to present an indictment to the defendant.

A case against University of Iowa men’s basketball student manager Evan Schuster is still pending. His attorney, Leon Spies, did not return a call or email seeking comment Friday.

It was not immediately clear what impact the dropping of charges in the Iowa State cases might have on those against University of Iowa players.

Tyler Jett is an investigative reporter for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at, 515-284-8215, or on Twitter at @LetsJett. He also accepts encrypted messages at

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Former Iowa State athletes no longer charged in gambling investigation