Dennis Janson: Innocent on-air congratulations to Pete Rose prompts IRS visit 25 years ago

CINCINNATI -- It was a Friday like every other before it took a turn for one like none other.

Ted Gregory called with a story tip. He’d been in the VIP lair at Turfway Park on that day —Jan.  25, 1989— hoping like many others to beat the very long odds and cash in a big Pick 6 jackpot.

The Ribs King couldn’t pull it off. The Hit King did.

“Hey Denny! Ted Gregory here," he announced as I finalized my sportscast.

“Pete and Jerry Carroll just won that Pick 6.” 

I wondered how he knew?

“I was there. They’re doing handsprings all over the private lounge."

With that I had a kicker for the show. A lighthearted, end of evening item to sort of wrap up the production with a tidy bow.

The swelling Pick 6 jackpot had been news for days. For the uninitiated, to win the Pick 6, bettors have to select the winning horse in 6 consecutive races, usually inserted into the middle of a track’s racing program.  

Winning involves unequal portions of luck and skill. The former is largely the determining factor.

Come what may Pete Rose and Turfway President Jerry Carroll had one of the victorious tickets and it proved one of the unluckiest wins of their wagering careers.

I, though, had a nice little item to finish the week.

Those words have been with me for 25 years:

“And finally, always a fan of the sport of kings, Pete Rose and pals won a king’s ransom tonight, collaborating on one of the winning Pick 6 tickets at Turfway Park. Before taxes, their share could be more than $250,000. Congratulations to Pete and good night to you. Have a great weekend.”

Fade to black, roll the credits and cue a weekend rife with behind the scenes drama. Turns out for any number of reasons, some real, most presumed, Pete and Jerry delayed redeeming the ticket. There were other forces though that didn’t wait to cash in. 

The following Tuesday, just after completing the 6 p.m. newscast, WCPO-TV receptionist Kay Barksdale paged me over the PA system.

“DJ, you have guests in the lobby.”

So off I went to a most interesting meeting.

I recognized one of the two suited gentlemen. Kent Marcum, a Special Agent with the IRS whom I’d met some years before. He was a G-man right out of central casting. Same for his companion.  He introduced himself as Leo Rolfes, also an IRS Special Agent.

I got nervous.

What did the Feds want to talk with me about? What stupid thing might I have done to elicit this unannounced visit. I summoned my best innocent face and asked:

“What can I do for you gentlemen?”

Leo took the lead: “You had a story on Friday night about Pete Rose and Jerry Carroll winning a big jackpot at Turfway Park”.

Whew…..! 

Double Whew!

“Yeah, I got a call from a source who told me that they won and were high-fiving  everyone within arms’ reach. I did it as a little item at the end of the show. That’s all I know about it.”

That was that. Or so I thought.

Figuring I was off the hook I nonchalantly wondered: “What is to keep me from going on the air tonight and saying that the IRS is looking into Pete Rose’s affairs?”

Agents Rolfes and Marcum looked at each other and I’m inclined to say it was Rolfes who replied, “Well, we guess nothing. But we would appreciate it if you didn’t.”

No problem.

I assured them I would keep it under my hat but that if I got an inkling the story was getting out without me or confirmed it through some other source, I’d be compelled to report it.

And so off we went.

Me back to my desk and agents Rolfes and Marcum to continue their pursuit of other leads, among them reports that Rose had long been accepting cash for autograph sessions, memorabilia sales and so as to avoid paying taxes on the income.  They were well armed for the quest. Especially Agent Rolfes, a Harrison native with an accounting degree from Xavier. His facility with numbers served him well as he sniffed out a paper trail that led to Pete. 

Little did I know that my Friday night kicker story would be another brick in the wall, building toward a series of historic events. 

Stay tuned for the rest of the story here on WCPO.com.

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