Boston police said that they arrested 26 people in an undercover operation aimed at shutting down an illegal gambling operation in New England. Police units simultaneously raided eight locations in eastern Massachusetts over the weekend, where they seized cash and vehicles and captured the alleged ringleader, Marika Zovanich, 25, of Lynn.
A police spokesman said the investigation began last November when police accidentally uncovered an illegal training facility in New Bedford. On November 12, officers responded to a 911 hang-up call and discovered a barbaric gymnasium where 112 elderly women were being forced to train for the underground sport known as “Granny Racing.”
“Granny racing has been around since the 80s. Spectators bet on elderly women with walkers as they shuffle along a 40-to-60-foot track,” said Lt. Tim Garrity of Boston Police. “These women are mothers and grandmothers, some 100 years old, who are forced to race in bar rooms and underground clubs. They do not have safety equipment or medical attention. They are paid very little, if at all. Organizers elevate the excitement by spraying oil on the racetrack to make it slippery. Spectators often throw banana peels on the track during the race. It is a truly sick, sick sport…but it’s really fun to watch.”
According to its Facebook page, Ultimate Granny Racing has an estimated 300,000 fans here in the United States.
Many of the elderly racers are picked up off the streets and most are prostitutes or drug addicts. Racing recruiters typically approach a woman and lure her with Bingo cards, bags of crochet yarn or free cat food. Once captured, they are brought to secret training facilities and are held against their will. The women are fed a diet of raw meat and Geritol and are poked with crocheted coat hangers, making them aggressive. They are kept in cages and forced to stay up late at night, sometimes past 10 o’clock. Twenty-four hours a day, Yoko Ono music is played over loudspeakers causing many to chew their own ears off.
Marika Zovanich faces multiple charges, including illegally racing grannies, tax evasion, reckless endangerment and Medicare fraud. Zovanich is a Russian citizen here in the US on a work visa.
“Vhat crime do I commit?” she asked. “My girls are happy. I gives them food and exercise. For this is a crime? I recycle the garbage your society throw away, zat is all. You are criminal, not me. I love all my girls. Ve are family. Can you say same?”
Zovanich is being held in custody without bail until a court date is set.