A Brief Look at Crime 01/21 – 01/27

Game room robberies on the rise

Since April of 2012, Houston police say they have investigated more than 40 game room robberies. Game rooms are prime targets because most of them operate illegally paying out cash to customers and sometimes because of the illegal gambling that goes unreported. HPD’s Major Offenders Division is investigating many of these robberies including two that occurred last October in the 1300 block of Bellaire. Investigators are hoping one of our viewers can help. The department provided two surveillance videos from the two game room robberies. At least three suspects were involved in the crimes. They drove what appears to be a four-door Honda Civic with a bumper that had not been painted. The bumper sticks out and detectives want to know if you have seen this vehicle. Over the past few years, many customers have not only been robbed, but assaulted. In some instances there were deaths.

 International crime ring stole millions from Medicare, laundered through casinos

An elaborate, international health-care fraud ring that stole millions from taxpayers started to come unraveled when an Ohio gynecologist called investigators after receiving insurance payments for male patients. Ultimately, two California men went to federal prison in May as purported ringleaders of the operation, but not before making off with more than $13 million in Medicare payments for nonexistent medical services in a case that illustrates a common health-care fraud scheme. An elaborate, international health-care fraud ring that stole millions from taxpayers started to come unraveled when an Ohio gynecologist called investigators after receiving insurance payments for male patients. Ultimately, two California men went to federal prison in May as purported ringleaders of the operation, but not before making off with more than $13 million in Medicare payments for nonexistent medical services in a case that illustrates a common health-care fraud scheme. Then they laundered the money, according to court records, setting up fake businesses to do so. They also deposited cash into casino accounts and withdrew it as gambling chips.

 Woman charged in double stabbing at Reno casino

Reno police have arrested a woman accused of stabbing two other women in a Reno casino. Police say 26-year-old Vanessa Hernandez-Duenas argued with the two women before stabbing them shortly before 5:30 a.m. Monday at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa. One woman was stabbed in the lower back and the other in her side. The second victim is six months pregnant but police say no one’s life is threatened by the injuries. The suspect was caught on security video surveillance and was located within several blocks of the casino on South Virginia Street. She was booked on suspicion of two counts of battery with a deadly weapon.

 Palm Beach Gardens man pleads guilty to kidnapping plot 

Former New Jersey attorney Michael Melillo faces life in prison having pleaded guilty today to masterminding the kidnapping of a wealthy BallenIsles businessman in May. Wearing navy blue jail scrubs with his hands and legs restrained, the man who charmed philanthropists and bragged about his art and wine collections pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping after calmly discussing his background with U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley. Melillo, who graduated from Seton Hall law school and moved to Palm Beach Gardens roughly 10 years ago to run a family-owned debt consolidation business, assured Hurley he did.

However, despite his law degree and the years he spent representing people in personal injury lawsuits, the 50-year-old in May was duped by federal agents into believing they were criminals for hire instead of experienced G-men who were reeling him in. In a series of meetings and telephone conversations, the undercover agents convinced Melillo they would kidnap his nemesis and hold him for $20 million in ransom. Facing foreclosure and other financial problems, he said he wanted the money for his 3-year-old son. He also said he was seeking revenge, Waters said. He blamed his intended target for $100,000 in gambling losses.

 Pennsylvania bookkeeper gets year in jail for theft, forgery

Mt. Pleasant, PA, bookkeeper will spend nearly one year in jail after she was sentenced Tuesday for embezzling more than $400,000 from a Greensburg accounting firm to buy scratch-off lottery tickets. Joyce M. Markiewics, 47, pleaded guilty to theft and forgery charges for writing 97 bogus paychecks over a four-year period that started in 2006 while she worked at Wilder & Co. According to court records, Markiewics used her husband’s name to create a fake employee who was routinely paid with company checks. She used the stolen money to pay for her gambling habit, she told the judge. Markiewics claimed she was addicted to scratch-off Pennsylvania Lottery tickets, according to court records.

 Gas bar manager stole over $400,000

The former manager of a north-end gas bar, who defrauded the owner of between $400,000 and $500,000 to fund his addiction to online gambling, will be sentenced March 28.  Christopher Homenuk, 41, of Brantford, pleaded guilty in Ontario Court on Wednesday to two counts of fraud over $5,000. He had no prior record. A pre-sentence report was ordered. Between January 2004 and July 2012, Homenuk skimmed between $400,000 and $500,000 in cash from the Brantwood Park Road gas bar, one of several independent stations owned by Davis Fuels Inc. When questioned by police, Homenuk confessed his crime and said that about 70% of the missing money had gone to his gambling debts, while the rest was used to provide him with a “carefree” life. Homenuk told police that he got involved in online gambling and, despite being “really bad at it,” he continued. The deeper he got in, the worse it became, he told police.

 Former Drilling Controller Pleads Guilty to $5.4M Theft

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The former controller of a natural gas drilling company pleaded guilty Wednesday to helping the company’s former chief operating officer steal more than $5.4 million from the western Pennsylvania business — including $557,000 she kept for herself. Cheryl Diane Brooks, 43, of Clymer, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and three counts each of mail fraud and tax fraud and will return for sentencing May 31 before a federal judge in Pittsburgh. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci told the judge the thefts began when Brooks wrote a check for Falcon Drilling LLC’s former chief operating officer to help him cover a gambling debt in 2004. Federal prosecutors calculated the total loss to Falcon at $5.4 million when Brooks was charged in December, but on Wednesday Melucci said nearly $10 million has now been discovered missing from the company.

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

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