PORT SAINT LUCIE, Fla. — Paul L. “Butch” Wilson, a South Toledo bar owner and bookmaker who befriended politicians and public employees before his flight from federal prosecution and his eventual conviction on racketeering charges, died Saturday in his Florida home. He was 72.
Wilson was in ill health and had severe asthma, his wife, Sherry, said. The couple have been Florida residents since 1997.
“He and I made a decision to move away from there and get away from it and have real friends and have that in your past,” his wife said. “He had a heart of gold. He was very kind. That’s what was so hurtful. He was not a vicious monster. Sure he did wrong, and he paid the price for what he did, and he never did it again.”
Wilson already was a convicted gambler when, in May, 1985, federal agents raided his Marquee Lounge, 1402 South Ave. — later known as Bogart’s Bar and Grille — in connection with an investigation of gambling in Toledo.
The FBI alleged that Wilson ran one of the largest sports bookmaking operations in the country.
Another target of the investigation was convicted racketeer William P. “Billy” Scott.
By the end of 1987, Wilson agreed to a plea deal.
In early 1988, he received a 14-year federal prison sentence for nine felony convictions that stemmed from racketeering.
While gambling was not among the charges for which he was sentenced, authorities said gambling was at the heart of his convictions for violating the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO Act. He served four years in federal prison at Milan, Mich.
For nearly three years — from the raid to Wilson's sentencing — Toledoans paid rapt attention to news accounts filled with details of Wilson’s operation and revelations about politicians and others to whom he’d donated money or invited to stay at his Acapulco condominium.
The investigation led to 10 additional arrests on gambling-related charges, including a radio announcer and other bar owners.
“He was very big. He was one of the big players,” Gene Fodor, a retired Toledo police detective, said.
Then-Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest withdrew his candidacy for mayor of Toledo in 1985 following a revelation that Mr. Kest was Wilson’s personal and business accountant and had stayed at the condo in Mexico.
Mr. Kest, who was the endorsed Democrat opposing Republican incumbent Donna Owens, said he did not know about the gambling operation.
Mr. Kest was never formally accused of wrongdoing. He could not be reached for comment.
City Manager C.E. Riser ordered department heads to identify employees who had been associated with Wilson.
Such politicians as Mr. Kest, the late Gene Cook, a longtime city councilman, and Francis Szollosi, Jr., a mayoral candidate in Oregon, received campaign contributions from Wilson.
“Butch had connections with all kinds of police officers and a lot of those politicians and lawyers,” Mr. Fodor said.
Paul Mettes, a friend for more than 50 years, said: “I think Paul — ‘Butchie’ — wanted to be considered a legitimate entrepreneur, and that was the circle he wanted to be in.”
In June, 1986, Wilson jumped a $600,000 bond in connection with a federal indictment and fled to Mexico.
He was discovered at his Acapulco condo and was returned to the United States in April, 1987, after Mexican authorities arrested him.
“I think he felt he was being overly prosecuted in the case,” Jerome Phillips, a lawyer who represented him for 15 years, said.
He added he would have advised Wilson to “face the consequences [of the charges] and get it behind you. Obviously he didn’t ask my advice before he left.
“The thing that aggravated the government the most was when he skipped out; it was sort of thumbing his nose at authorities,” Mr. Phillips said.
Paul Lester Wilson, Jr., was born April 20, 1941, to Virginia and Paul Wilson.
He was a graduate of Libbey High School and a Navy veteran.
Wilson worked for the U.S. Postal Service before he was injured on the job.
He was good with numbers — “which is probably why he got into the bookmaking business,” Mr. Phillips said — and was known for his loyalty and generosity to friends and his South Toledo neighbors.
“He was colorful. He was genuine,” Mr. Mettes said. “As I told my children when he came into my home, he was probably one of the most honest men you’ll ever run across. He didn’t fib. He didn’t lie. If he said it was 10 o’clock, you didn’t have to look at a watch.”
Surviving Wilson are his wife, Sherry, whom he married Aug. 12, 1986; daughter, Terry Wilson; sisters, Joan Ward, Laura Wilson, and Linda Wilson, and a grandson.
Services will be scheduled later in Toledo, his wife said.
Arrangements are being handled by the Treasure Coast Seawinds Funeral Home, Stuart, Fla.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.
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