Monthly Archives: November 2011

Anti-Gambling Groups Ask to Join Florida Supreme Court Case

Casino Watch Focus reported that the appellate court decision that lead to the new “destination casinos” debate had been appealed to the Supreme Court.  The case has incredible implications toward the future of gambling expansion.  As such, other groups are looking to join the legal side making the appeal.  The Orlando Sentinel explains:

No Casinos has asked the Supreme Court to allow the anti-gambling group to join a case over whether Hialeah Racetrack can have slot machines, by filing briefs in support of Calder Race Course.

The Orland-based group was joined by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and the Florida Attractions Association. None of the four groups had sought to intervene when the case was heard by a Tallahassee circuit judge or the 1st District Court of Appeals, so the justices will have to give them permission to intervene now.

Calder, supported by other South Florida pari-mutuels, is contesting a 1st DCA ruling that allows slots at Hialeah Racetrack and permits the Legislature to expand gambling instead of requiring voters to approve all gambling expansion projects.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


A Brief Look at Crime 11/14 – 11/20

Former Alabama rep. to be 4th gambling guilty plea

Former state Rep. Terry Spicer of Elba is due in federal court on Tuesday to become the fourth person to plead guilty in Alabama’s gambling corruption investigation. Spicer was charged after two of the three people who have pleaded guilty in the case, casino developer Ronnie Gilley and casino lobbyist Jarrod Massey, testified in federal court about paying money to the ex-lawmaker when he was in the Legislature. Federal prosecutors charged Spicer through an information rather than indictment, which is the usual way a plea agreement is handled. Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said Monday the agency would comment after the hearing. Spicer and his attorney did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.

Gambling addicted nun spent $1 million on slot machines

A Catholic nun Sister Marie Thornton, 65, addicted to gambling, stole more than $1 million from a Catholic college where she worked to spend on slot machines in Atlantic City casinos.  Daily Mail reports that Sister Marie Thornton stole money from Iona College, New Rochelle, New York, over a period of ten years to maintain her gambling addiction.  According to prosecutor Preet Bharara, Sister Thornton, “covered up the thousands she would lose by systematically submitting false vendor invoices for reimbursement to Iona College and submitting credit-card bills for personal expenses to be paid by Iona College.” The court was told that Sister Thornton, popularly known as Sister Susie, sometimes lost up to $5,000 after a day of gambling. New York Post reports than on an occasion she lost up to $10,000.

Bayonne man pleads guilty to federal charges of embezzling $560,000 from labor union he worked for

The attorney for a Bayonne man who yesterday admitted embezzling more than $560,000 from the labor union he worked for said the crime stemmed from his client’s gambling problem. James J. Kearney Jr., 44, the former secretary treasurer of a New Jersey ironworkers’ union, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson in Trenton to one count of embezzlement, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced. “Mr. Kearney self-reported his misappropriation to union officials back in September 2010, at which time he also resigned from his position as financial secretary,” Andrew J. Weinstein, Kearney’s Manhattan-based attorney, said yesterday. “Since that time he (Kearney) has been working successfully on getting his life back together and dealing with and getting treatment for his addiction,” Weinstein added.

Gambling addict who stole more than $1 million receives shock probation

A judge on Wednesday granted shock probation to a man who had been convicted of stealing more than $1 million from the Louisville car dealership where he was a manager and then gambling a large portion of that money at Horeshoe Casino. Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Fred Cowan ruled that Woods’ case was “somewhat unusual” in that he had no criminal record and clearly was a gambling addict. “It is an incredibly serious addiction that devastates lives,” said Cowan, who allowed Woods to be released only under several conditions. He ordered Woods to spend 120 days on home incarceration, go to Gambler’s Anonymous meetings at least four days a week, speak to others about the dangers of gambling addiction and consult with a counselor who had worked with Churchill Downs treating addiction.

 Kearny woman convicted in immigration fraud scheme sentenced to 7 years in prison

A Kearny woman fraudulently took hundreds of thousands of dollars from immigrants to expedite their paperwork so they could get authorization to work in the U.S. and a green card, federal officials said. Rosa Blake, 56, instead spent the money on a BMW, fur coats and designer clothes, while gambling the rest at Atlantic City casinos, the officials said. If her victims complained, they added, she would threaten to have them deported. Blake, a Portuguese national with a green card, now faces deportation herself. U.S. District Judge William H. Walls today sentenced her to more than seven years in prison and three years of supervised release in the scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He also ordered her to pay nearly $774,000 in restitution. After she serves her sentence, deportation proceedings are expected to begin.

 Boise attorney disbarred for misconduct including fraud, theft

The Idaho Supreme Court has disbarred a Boise attorney who acknowledged taking more than $355,000 in fees from seven clients and refusing to provide an accounting or refund when they hired another attorney.  The disbarment complaint said Bergesen had the woman sign an agreement to pay him $200,000 for lifetime representation. The woman’s bank stepped in after she had paid him just over $152,000, and she had sought to liquidate her retirement and annuity accounts to pay him another $100,000. The woman hired another attorney and Bergeson refused to refund the $152,000. Bergesen’s attorney, Layne Davis, has said his client is a pathological gambler who suffers from bipolar disorder.

 Tulalip Tribes member sentenced in embezzlement case

A 46-year-old Tulalip Tribes member has been sentenced to a year’s confinement, including six months in prison, and ordered to pay back nearly $400,000 she embezzled while working at a tribal liquor store and smoke shop.  Angela Jones Ver Hoeven was a clerk at the store. Federal charges filed in April alleged that she stole cash while working the till, often pocketing a few hundred dollars a day. A review of smoke-shop records showed that she was routinely failing to register multi-carton sales of cigarettes, ringing up a single-carton sale and then pocketing the rest. She stole a total of $396,043 over 32 months, according to the charges. An investigation showed that Ver Hoeven had significant gambling losses at the Quil Ceda Creek Casino during the year before the thefts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


UPDATE: Gambling-Expanding Slot Case is being appealed to the Florida Supreme Court

Casino Watch Focus reported that  an appellate court upheld a ruling that would allow the Florida legislature to expand gambling in the state without a vote of the people. Given the case involved the constitutionality of legislation to expand gambling, it has been assumed that an appeal to the Supreme Court would be filed. Now, The Associated Press is confirming those assumptions:

An appellate court decision that said the Legislature can approve slot machines anywhere in the state is being appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

If allowed to stand, that ruling would allow lawmakers to permit destination casino resorts in Florida. Bills have been filed for the 2012 legislative session, which starts Jan. 10, to license three such resorts in South Florida.

The casino legislation is being opposed by some on moral grounds as well as competing interests. Tourism-related businesses such as Walt Disney World also are lining up against casinos because of the fear they’ll tarnish Florida’s family-friendly image.

This appeal is simply the first step.  The Florida Supreme Court must first decide to hear the case.  It is believed that given the magnitude of the case’s implications, the Court will do so and hear arguments on the case.  The Associated Press continues:

The appellate court ruled the amendment doesn’t prohibit lawmakers from approving slots at facilities other than those that meet the amendment’s criteria. If the Supreme Court takes the case, it will hear two different arguments from Hialeah’s competitors.

Flagler and Florida Gaming say the amendment allows slots only at the seven Broward and Miami-Dade pari-mutuels. That interpretation would bar the Legislature from permitting slots anywhere else including casino resorts.

Calder’s position is the amendment applies only to pari-mutuels. That view would exclude Hialeah but let lawmakers authorize slots at casino resorts because they are not pari-mutuels.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH, & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


A Brief Look at Crime 11/07 – 11/13

Couple dead in murder-suicide

Police confirmed Sunday the deaths were a case of murder-suicide. While the homicide unit’s Staff Sergeant Ian Matthews said he would not discuss the nature of the injures and what weapon was used out of respect for the family, Hamilton EMS reported tending to traumatic injuries believed to be due to stabbing for both patients. The 15-year-old son was in the house when the altercation occurred. Neighbours say the two older daughters are university students in their 20s and at least one of them is attending McMaster University. The children were in the care of a relative over the weekend, Matthews said. Phu Pham, who worked with Huynh for about seven years at the National Steel Car in Hamilton, said Huynh was laid off from his position as a welder about two years ago.  He often ran into Huynh at the Tim Hortons on Cannon Street near Bay Street and his former co-worker would mention fights with his wife over the money they lost at casinos, Pham said. “When they make some money, they go (to the casino),” the 55-year-old said. “In one game — two minutes — (he would play) $100. Easy.”

Damian Karlik convicted in murder of former boss’ family that rocked Israel

The Petah Tikva District Court on Monday convicted Damian Karlik of murdering six members of the Osherenko family in Rishon Letzion two years ago. Karlik was also convicted of conspiracy to murder, theft, and arson. In 2009, 32-year-old Dmitry Oshrenko, his 28-year-old wife Tatiana, and their children Revital, 3, and Netanel, aged four months, were found dead in their Rishon Letzion apartment along with grandparents, Edward and Ludmilla, both 56. Five of the six victims had sustained stab wounds.  Karlik, whom the police say is a compulsive gambler, spent huge amounts of money at gambling venues and allegedly began to plan his revenge on Osherenko four months ago with his wife Natalya, who was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to 13 years in prison in a plea bargain.     

Neenah woman pleads no contest to $500,000 embezzlement

A Neenah woman pleads no contest to charges she stole nearly $500,000 from her employer.  50-year-old Tina Jacobsen admitted to three counts of embezzlement from the Community Blood Center in Grand Chute.  Two other charges were dropped, but could be considered at her sentencing.  Prosecutors say Jacobsen blew most of the money on gambling.  Blood center officials say they found discrepancies in their records and investigators found forged expense reimbursements.

Woman pleads guilty to stealing from employer   

A former employee of a Los Alamos physical therapy practice pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement and tax evasion, according to a report from the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department. Rebecca Serrano, also known as Becky Serrano, of Española, was ordered to pay nearly $165,000 in restitution and back taxes by State District Judge Michael Vigil. Serrano is a former employee of Jemez Physical Therapy. She pled guilty to stealing $160,000 to support her gambling addiction, according to Taxation and Revenue officials. Judge Vigil placed her on five years’ probation and ordered her to stay away from casinos or gaming establishments, and to seek counseling for gambling addiction.

Nun, 63, spared jail time for $850G theft from Iona

A nun who stole more than $850,000 from Iona College to fund a gambling addiction while she was in charge of the school’s finances was spared incarceration today and ordered to perform 2,000 hours of community service. At her sentencing in Manhattan federal court, Sister Marie Thornton, 63, said she was deeply sorry for her crime and for the embarrassment she caused her religious order, family and friends. “Somehow the words ‘I’m sorry’ fall short,” she told U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood. “They don’t convey the gut-wrenching sorrow I feel all day, every day.” Sentencing guidelines called for a prison term of 2 1/2 to 3 years and Cohen argued for some incarceration, calling Thornton’s crime an “ongoing, systematic, very extensive fraud.” The judge, however, said it appeared Thornton had been rehabilitated through extensive treatment for her addiction and that she has already been punished enough by the strict oversight she must endure from her religious order in Philadelphia.

Rosemount Man Involved in Extortion Scheme Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion

A Rosemount man who pleaded guilty last spring to coercion in an extortion plot that ended with the suicide of a Bloomington man pleaded guilty this week to failing to pay taxes on almost $300,000 that he earned gambling at a Minnesota casino. Rickey Eugene Pouncil, 47, was sentenced in August to 13 months in prison after pleading guilty to coercion in the extortion case. He was sentenced this week to six months on the tax charges, which will run concurrently with his sentence at the prison in Faribault. Pouncil, who spent more than $2 million at Mystic Lake casino between 2004 and 2008, was charged with five counts of failing to file tax returns for those years, all gross misdemeanors. Under a plea agreement with prosecutors, a sixth felony charge was dismissed.

 Estero bookkeeper accused of bilking $100,000 from business

An Estero bookkeeper is accused of taking over $100,000 from his employer’s bank accounts. According to a Lee County Court affidavit, Gryska’s employer, Judy Ann Haataja of Tri Power Vacation Rentals, filed a complaint against him on March 10. In the complaint she claims Gryska wrote checks from the company’s Florida Gulf Bank accounts, totaling $101,180.82, for his personal use. Gryska sent Haataja several emails begging her to reconsider having him arrested. He claims to have gambling and alcohol problems.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


A diverse mix of Groups Oppose Full-Scale Vegas-Style Gambling in Florida

Casino Watch focus reported that a bill has been introduced in the Florida legislature to expand gambling by allowing mega Vegas-style destination casinos. Key groups immediately came out against this possible gambling expansion including The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Disney and The Florida Hotel and Lodging Association to name a few.  Now, The Miami Herald is reporting that another key group is coming out against gambling expansion:

The board of the association of tourist attractions and parks today announced it will oppose the “destination resorts” casino bill if it moves through the Legislature.

The Florida Attractions Association, which represents public and private tourist sites throughout the state (from the Monkey Jungle and the Miami Science Museum to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo), warned that the experience of other states is troubling.

“Less fortunate destinations around the U.S. have sought to increase their market share of tourism by adding casino gambling to their states,” the association said in a press release. “The results have been less than stellar. Promises of economic boom and employment gains are not sustained, and casino gambling has become passé with their proliferation and the passage of time.”

As the economic and tourist driven groups are making their presence known, so are a coalition of religious and other anti-gambling groups.  The St. Augustine Record explains:

A coalition of religious and anti-gambling groups said Tuesday they are launching an aggressive lobbying campaign to convince the Legislature to reject a plan to allow massive luxury casinos in two South Florida counties.

These predominantly religious groups join a growing list of opponents to identical bills (HB 487, SB 710) that permit Las Vegas-style “destination resort” casinos and establish a new state agency to regulate gambling.

Groups such as the Florida Baptist Convention, the Florida Catholic Conference, Florida Casino Watch and Florida Family Action say they oppose any measure to expand gambling because it victimizes poor people, tempts compulsive gamblers, sullies the state’s family-friend image and could harm businesses that rely on tourists.

“We are working to make our message very clear to legislators that it is unconscionable to vote for a change that will negatively affect thousands of families in our state,” said Mark Andrews, chairman of Florida Casino Watch.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


A Brief Look at Crime 10/31 – 11/06

Tropicana Casino and Resort may face fine for underage gambling by 14-year-old boy

The slot machine player at Tropicana Casino and Resort had a “youthful appearance,” but a casino security guard walked right past him and apparently did nothing. The gambler turned out to be only 14 years old. Now, Tropicana is at risk of being fined by New Jersey gaming regulators for an underage gambling violation.  Lisa Spengler, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, said Monday that the case is under investigation, but no formal action has been taken yet against Tropicana. “The complaints are still pending. They’re still trying to work out an agreement,” Spengler said of negotiations between the state and Tropicana.

 Professional Poker Player Who Killed Parents Profiled in Dateline NBC

Dateline NBC produced a segment on professional poker player Ernie Scherer III who was sentenced for the double homicide of his parents, Ernest Scherer Jr., 60, and Charlene Abendroth, 57, in their Castlewood Country Club, California home.  The showed aired this past Friday. The couple was found brutally beaten and stabbed to death in their Pleasanton home in March 2008.   Scherer III had attempted to make the crime scene appear as if it were a home invasion. Prior to sentencing, the accused killer issued a rambling statement insisting that he loved his parents.  The judge did not appear swayed by the statement.

 Woman accused of selling her baby behind bars 

Delaware woman charged with trying to sell her baby to a Philadelphia man for $15,000 is behind bars after violating the terms of her pretrial release. Court records indicate that 33-year-old Bridget Wismer of Newark was taken into custody last week and is being held under $25,000 cash-only bond at Baylor women’s prison in New Castle.  Authorities said Wismer failed to abide by those conditions and was wearing a disguise when she was found at Delaware Park racetrack and casino.

Man put ‘kidnapped’ woman in grave: court

A Melbourne man who allegedly kidnapped a woman he met online and tried to extort money from her family told police his victim was a willing participant in the plot, a court has been told. Darren Wayne Saltmarsh, 35, said he would torture the Nepalese student before killing her, if her overseas family did not pay him $20,000, police allege. Throughout the alleged 65-hour kidnap ordeal the terrified woman was not given any food and was frequently vomiting, the Melbourne Magistrates Court heard. Saltmarsh, who faces charges including kidnapping, false imprisonment and making a threat to kill, was refused bail on Monday. Saltmarsh was a gambling addict and bankrupt, the court heard.

 Accused Embezzler Out On Bond

Christina Michelle Bratcher is accused of embezzling $460,000 from a welding company. Police released a photo of the 43-year-old on Monday. Investigators say Bratcher worked as the book keeper for Colorado Welding Supply on Garner St. The owners of the business found out about the embezzlement when they had to file for bankruptcy. “I trusted her,” former co-owner of the business Eric Younger said. “I knew her father from before I opened that business.” Detectives with the Financial Crimes Unit reviewed the business records and Bratcher’s records and found she issued large checks from the business account to her own account.  Younger says it’s devastating since he built the business from the ground up: “to trust someone and have them just absolutely devastate your life.” Court documents show that she was using some of the money for online gambling.

School employee pleads guilty to theft of $600,000

A bookkeeper who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Hillsborough County technical center pleaded guilty today to grand theft and official misconduct – concealing or destroying records. Dianne Parker, 57, was sentenced to two years of a restrictive form of probation, to be followed by 20 additional years of probation, state attorney’s spokesman Mark Cox said. Parker also has to pay $300,000 in restitution and attend gambling counseling, Cox said. In 2009, the Hillsborough County school district said Parker took nearly $600,000 from a training program where she worked for 30 years. The district said Parker made deposits for Erwin Technical Center in amounts less than she received and then pocketed the difference.

Ex-chamber official charged in theft

The former vice president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and treasurer for the Boomtown Days Festival of the Four States was charged Friday with stealing thousands of dollars from the festival over a period of three years to cover a gambling problem.  Kimberly K. Lester, 53, 5848 Eland Road, told an investigator she tried to keep track of all she stole “but was not a good record keeper.” She handled several hundred thousand dollars for the Boomtown Days event. At least $39,542 can be shown to have been stolen based on bank records, but Lester withdrew more than $108,502 and put more than $64,000 back into the accounts, according to a probable-cause statement filed in the Associate Division of Jasper County Circuit Court at Joplin. Lester admitted to stealing money from the Boomtown Days account to fund a gambling addiction,” the document states. “Lester stated she attempted to keep track of all the money she stole, but was not a good record keeper.”

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION


Much-anticipated Casino bill filled in the Florida Legislature

Casino Watch Focus reported that an appellate court ruling in Florida opened the door to the Legislature to pass gambling expansion legislation without a direct vote of the people.  It has been anticipated that a bill would be introduced to allow major destination casinos.  Now the Sun Sentinel online explains:

A long-promised “destination casino” bill was filed Wednesday, allowing three Las Vegas-style operations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and setting the stage for a full-throttle debate about gambling in Florida.

The bill will be one of the most heavily lobbied pieces of legislation during the 2012 legislative session, which starts Jan. 10. Social conservatives, as well as business and tourism groups, are opposed

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, a prime sponsor along with Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen, says the measure (HB 487, SB 710) is an attempt to “begin the conversation” about an industry that’s metastasized in recent years.

HB 487/SB 710 would create a new agency to oversee gambling and it would invite developers to offer plans for multi-billion-dollar destination casinos.  The case can still be appealed up to the Florida Supreme Court.  Even if the appellate court decision is upheld, enough pressure can still be put on the Legislature to vote against this expansion.

For more information on the dangers of gambling, please visit CASINO WATCH & CASINO WATCH FOUNDATION