By most accounts, John Gavaghan should’ve known his way around the Delaware Park Racetrack and Casino.
He should’ve known that big-time betting houses generally have the best video surveillance equipment that money can buy.
But it was the Bustleton resident’s apparent disregard of the eyes in the sky that pointed authorities to the reputed horseman’s latest high-risk, high-reward gamble.
New Castle County, Del., police say they have video evidence of Gavaghan paying cash for a Newark-area woman’s newborn baby and of him preparing paperwork to document the black-market deal.
Gavaghan, 54, of the 9100 block of Old Newtown Road, and his alleged accomplice, Bridget M. Wismer, 33, of Brookside Park, Del., were arrested Sept. 30 and charged with dealing in children and conspiracy. Since then, the case has been making national headlines.
Both defendants have been released on bail. On Friday, Wismer waived a preliminary hearing and was ordered to wear an electronic-monitoring device. Trial dates have not been set.
The agreed-upon sale price for the month-old boy was $15,000, authorities claim. New Castle County police, with assistance from detectives with Philadelphia’s special-victims unit, recovered the child from Gavaghan’s apartment.
The boy is in foster care.
It remains unclear how Wismer and Gavaghan even knew each other to allegedly engage themselves in the sordid transaction.
Wismer is a single mother of three who lives with her mother. Documents introduced in court on Oct. 5 by the Delaware Attorney General’s Office indicated that Wismer may have been addicted to opiates when the baby was born on Aug. 31 at Christiana Hospital with a similar addiction, according to the News-Journal of Wilmington.
Separate court filings have stated that Wismer wanted to sell the baby so she could take her older two children on a trip to Disney World, and that she posted her intention to sell the boy on Facebook before he was born.
In interviews with the Associated Press, Wismer reportedly denied that she intended to sell the boy and described Gavaghan as a friend who offered to help her financially and in taking care of the baby.
For his part, Gavaghan is an ex-convict whom Delaware State Police have described as a “horse owner” and the Delaware Attorney General’s Office has said is “allegedly a known seller of prescription medications and bookmaker at Delaware Park,” the News-Journal reported.
A neighbor who characterized himself as a longtime confidant of Gavaghan’s painted a different picture of the alleged baby-buyer on Oct. 5. The Northeast Times was unable to reach Gavaghan directly for comment.
The neighbor spoke on condition of anonymity and said that Gavaghan is well-liked in the apartment complex and willing to lend a hand to other residents in need.
Further, the neighbor said, Gavaghan had expressed to him a desire to raise a child. Gavaghan spoke of buying a house and hiring a nanny to help raise the youth. The neighbor refused to disclose Gavaghan’s current or prior family status or his profession, other than to say that he “spent a lot of time at horse tracks.”
The neighbor dismissed the idea that Gavaghan’s criminal past could compromise his ability to raise a child.
In 1995, he was convicted in a federal money-laundering case and sentenced to 33 months in prison. In 2002, he was convicted in Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court of multiple counts of theft and writing bad checks and was sentenced to one year of probation. A more-serious forgery charge was withdrawn.
Gavaghan also was arrested in 1993 in Philadelphia for forgery, theft and writing bad checks, but prosecutors later withdrew all charges. In 2005, he was charged locally with being a fugitive from justice, but prosecutors later withdrew the case.
His current pickle stems from a Sept. 4 complaint to New Castle County police by Wismer’s grandmother, who reported that Wismer was attempting to sell her newborn child “to an unknown homosexual couple for $15,000,” according to an affidavit of probable cause.
The grandmother further reported that “Bridget was trying to sell her child because she did not want the child and wanted to go to Disney World,” the affidavit states.
Police soon learned that the Delaware Division of Family Services had already launched an investigation of Wismer on the day of the child’s birth.
Gavaghan was listed as the biological father on the boy’s birth certificate. He, Wismer and Wismer’s mother all denied that the child was being sold. They told police that Wismer’s grandmother “was confused” about the situation.
Gavaghan, who later admitted to police that he never had sexual relations with Wismer, took possession of the child.
According to his neighbor, Gavaghan took the boy to see a doctor several times and the child appeared to be gaining weight.
On Sept. 29, however, a detective from the Delaware State Police Division of Gaming Enforcement contacted New Castle County police to report suspicious activity involving Wismer and Gavaghan.
On Sept. 3, a video surveillance camera at Delaware Park had filmed Gavaghan “completing paperwork pertaining to” the newborn child, according to the affidavit. A female, later identified as Wismer, was filmed allegedly handing the paperwork to Gavaghan and collecting cash and a money order from him.
The video camera even picked up some of the content of the paperwork, authorities claim. The words included “pertain to the sale of a baby,” specifically “for a child to be born on 09/08/11,” the affidavit states.
The court document does not explain the discrepancy between the actual birth date and the birth date cited in Gavaghan’s alleged paperwork. Other papers filmed by the security camera were dated prior to Aug. 31 and reference a series of payments and a balance due. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org