At age 70, Lillian Ernst was arrested and charged with gambling. Prior to this time, her only run in with the law had been for fishing without a license.
She was a sprite of a woman, standing not much taller than 5 feet and had sass and spunk and an irrepressible spirit, recounts her grandson, Joseph Gerth. He’s now a reporter for the Louisville Courier-News.
And nothing in her life presaged the troubles that would befall her years later.
When she showed up on the society page of the Courier-Journal in 1924, she was a 20-year-old flapper girl who belonged to the old Blue Moon Social Club and played second base for the Blue Gems baseball team.
Ultimately this “bad ass” grandma would find herself in the crosshairs of the Federal Bureau of Investigations after getting caught up in a wiretap.
A member of St. Mary's Altar Society at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, Ms. Ernst’s crime: Engaging in the second oldest profession in the world, bookmaking.
The poor granny was sentenced to a one-year and one-day prison term back in 1974 after being caught doing something just about everyone in the great state of Kentucky does come Derby day, placing wagers on the ponies!!!!
The feds even gave her a nickname: “320”.
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FBI Special Agent Edmund V. Armento was a 30-year-old counter-intelligence agent with the FBI's Louisville office when he and his partner pulled up in front of the house.
"We had the name and we had an arrest warrant," the now 73-year-old Armento recounted. Their job was to pick her up and take her to the Federal Building where a case agent would interview and fingerprint her.
"We got there and we looked at the description of your grandmother and kind of laughed and said, 'What are we doing here?" he recalled.
"I don't think we handcuffed her, which was a violation of the rules," he said. "I can't imagine handcuffing a nice, 71-year-old woman."
Ernst was ultimately charged with operating an illegal gambling business and with conspiracy to operate an illegal gambling business.
Ten others were indicted along with the granny.
This arrest really perplexed Armento. "I asked the case agent, "What the hell are we doing arresting a 70-year-old woman."
In the midst of it all, Ernst refused to give up her own bookie.
Gerth writes in his piece: As a cousin recently told me, “she was such a badass.”
Her grandson tells the full story here. Definitely a great read.
And in case you missed any past Bookies Behaving Badly pieces....scroll down below for all installments....
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- Jagajeet Chiba, Gambling911.com