Gambling case pays off for police

State, local agencies to split nearly $4.7 million seized

May 20, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN REPORTER

For the Queen Anne's County Sheriff's Department, their piece of what later evolved into a complex investigation into illegal gambling machines began with some thefts at a local high school. From there, deputies discovered that the suspect was using stolen cash to play the machines at a truck stop in Centreville.

That investigation merged into a bigger case that federal, state and local authorities in Maryland pursued against Truck Stop Games LLC. Last year, the Virginia-based company pleaded guilty to money laundering and was forced to hand over $2.5 million in assets to federal authorities, while a company that operated the truck stops, called TravelCenters of America, had to forfeit $4.2 million in a related civil action.

Yesterday, Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein announced that federal authorities would share a portion of the seized funds with state and local law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation.

Rosenstein said that assets seized during criminal cases are returned to victims, when possible, or redistributed to local police departments that helped in an investigation.

"So we make a positive out of a negative," Rosenstein said, flanked by law enforcement leaders from Baltimore County and Queen Anne's County, the Maryland State Police and the Internal Revenue Service. The state police will receive $2.9 million; Baltimore County police $176,000; and Queen Anne's will receive $1.6 million, officials said.

Officials said that the electronic video gaming machines that were being used in the operation were legal to play. But the business operators allowed people who played the machines to claim cash prizes if they won, which is against state law.

A report by the Abell Foundation issued two years ago estimated that the underground illegal gambling industry cost Maryland $15 million in uncollected tax revenue.

The report, which focused on Baltimore City and Baltimore County, estimated that the machine operators underreport their income by $63 million.

Curtis Benton, a retired chief deputy with Queen Anne's who was involved in the investigation, said after his agency discovered the gambling operation, they reached out to Baltimore County authorities because they knew of an active investigation they had begun. With help from Baltimore County and the IRS, they were able to continue the investigation into Truck Stop Games.

"This is so lucrative," Benton said. The one stop in Centreville had 12 machines that grossed about $700,000 a year, he said. On the wall, Benton said, used to hang a sign that read: "See attendant for your payment."

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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