A Brief Look at Crime 09/11 – 09/17

Addicted gambler gets house arrest after stealing $1 million

A Burford woman who stole almost $1 million from her CIBC employer was given a remarkably light sentence in Ontario Court last week due to her equally remarkable response to the crimes. Margaret Pepper, 56, was sentenced to a form of house arrest for two years rather than being sent to jail, which is typical for frauds of that magnitude. Pepper’s story began when she and co-workers from the CIBC’s Lynden Park Mall branch celebrated a birthday at the Brantford Casino. It started a major gambling addiction for the woman as she returned repeatedly to the casino, eventually spending $100,000 of her own funds and those of family. According to police, Pepper then began using her bank position to transfer money between client accounts and open new accounts in the names of some clients. Her scheme worked from October 2010 until November 2014 when an internal bank audit uncovered the theft. By that time, the bank had lost nearly $1 million, although it ensured no clients were out of pocket. The bank wasn’t initially named because it insisted, as the victim of a crime, it didn’t want to be identified. Pepper wasn’t charged until February 2016 and by that time, despondent at what she had done, she tried to take her own life.

‘Friction in gambling territory’: Vaughan kingpin Mark Peretz shot

Former Vaughan resident and illegal online gambling businessman Mark Peretz was the victim of an organized crime hit-style shooting at Sherway Gardens, according to CTV News. The news organization said it was told by a police source that it was Peretz who was shot in a brazen shooting at the Etobicoke mall on Aug. 16, around 7:30 p.m., that left him in life-threatening condition. According to an eyewitness in a CBC report, a man dressed in black with a mask suddenly appeared outside the mall and started firing into the driver’s side window of a car with a firearm that appeared to be fitted with a silencer. Peretz rose to infamy in the GTA after he was sentenced to nine years in prison for helping to mastermind an intended hit on reputed mobster Michele Modica. Getaway driver Peretz’s associates, Antonio Borrelli of Richmond Hill and Hells Angels member Paris Christoforou, fired 20 bullets in a failed attempt to kill Modica, who allegedly owed some $130,000 worth of gambling debts to Peretz. Reputed mobster Pietro “Peter” Scarcella was also sentenced to 10 years in prison for the incident.

Robbery suspect shoots 3 in Fort Worth, prompting gambling investigation

A robbery suspect is believed to have shot three people overnight, prompting an investigation into gambling at the building in East Fort Worth, police said. Three people had entered the building and attempted to rob three other people, police spokesman Daniel Segura said. The victims refused to cooperate, and one of the gunmen opened fire. He struck one person in the abdomen and another person was wounded in the leg. Police believe the third victim was also shot but left before officers arrived, Segura said. Detectives are also investigating gaming at the location, which is listed online as Pamir Smoke Shop.

Video Gambling Linked to Crime Spike

A new study led by economists at the University of Illinois suggests that access to video gambling is responsible for an increase of violent crime and property crime in Chicago. The Video Gaming Act of Illinois took effect in 2012, allowing local businesses with a liquor license to have up to four gambling terminals; presently, there are somewhere around 6,000 video gambling parlors in the state. Chicago maintains its 1993 ban on gambling, but access to video gambling has increased in the city thanks to its adoption by neighboring municipalities. Unlike other gambling studies which have been region- or state- specific, the authors analyzed block-level data. Drawing on police reports between January 2006 and June 2016, as well as monthly data on establishments with video gambling from the Illinois Gaming Board, the study found that “access to gambling adds on average 0.10 and 0.28 violent and property crimes per block group each month. In other words, legalizing video gambling has contributed to approximately 1,450 and 4,100 additional violent and property crimes in  Chicago since the Video Gaming Act took effect.”

While former studies have found a positive link between casinos and increased crime, the authors point out that “crime effects due to casino openings are driven by multiple mechanisms, not just gambling itself,” including an increase of visitors to counties where a casino has opened. By looking at video gambling only, researchers were able to eliminate factors extraneous to gambling.

North-east IT worker jailed after taking £1 million from council

A council IT expert who admitted swindling more than £1 million of public cash has been jailed. Mark Conway, 52, from Brechin began siphoning off local authority money into his own bank account to pay online gambling debts. He got away with the fraud for seven years before bosses at Dundee City Council grew suspicious. Conway, who admitted defrauding £1,065,085, lost the money betting on football matches. The offence was committed between August 2009 and May last year. Only £7,337 of the money was recovered. Judge Graeme Buchanan told first offender Conway: “I accept it was your addiction to gambling that led to the commission of this crime. “However, that is no excuse for what you did.” Judge Buchanan told Conway it was “a serious breach of trust.”

Identity theft, bank fraud at local casinos earns prison term 

A Las Vegas man was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison for defrauding casinos, including two large local Native American operations. Frank Luo 49, was sentenced by Judge Kim Mueller of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento. Luo and a conspirator are accused of causing losses of more than $1.1 million to casinos and credit card companies. From 2008 to 2014, Luo used fake identities along with the names and Social Security numbers of migrant workers to apply for credit at casinos, called casino markers, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A marker is essentially a cash advance from a casino, secured by a check from the patron. Luo and his accomplice would borrow money, and then pay it back, even sometimes faking that they were losing money gambling, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Luo worked in concert with other people to get and then pay down makers in order to show they were good for more credit. After building up and establishing creditworthiness, they would gather large sums on markers in a short time and leave with the cash.

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

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