A Miami homebuilder has been sued, accused of stealing millions of dollars from his clients to finance his high-roller lifestyle of weekend gambling stints at the Hard Rock Casino, two Rolls Royces and a Range Rover, and a luxury condo in Brickell. According to a complaint filed in Miami-Dade circuit court late Wednesday, Francisco Mendez, owner of the Miami-based Pioneer Inter-Development real estate developer, overpaid the contractors working on several homes, then demanded they return the extra money to him as a kickback. “There is more of this kind of fraud than people would like to believe,” said John Criste, an attorney at Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, the firm representing the plaintiffs. “But the fact that it is prevalent doesn’t make it right. In this instance, Mr. Mendez and his cohorts happened to get caught. They got caught because the instances of fraud in this case are egregious.”
A task force raid in October found evidence of an illegal gambling parlor, with 16 video gaming machines, drugs, methamphetamine pipes and about $1,700 in cash concealed in drywall, according to an FBI search warrant affidavit. That same night, investigators busted a similar casino blocks away, operating in a unit behind a small house. The businesses are just two examples of a much larger illicit economy that has risen in urban centers and quiet residential neighborhoods throughout California, including San Diego County. Illegal gambling is a misdemeanor under state law. Authorities say these underground parlors operating in the region are closely tied to a more serious criminal element: gangs, drugs and violence.
Homicide, shootings, stabbings, thefts — all have been investigated in and around the sites, according to the FBI affidavits. Methamphetamine often goes hand-in-hand with play at many covert gaming halls and is often sold or supplied by operators on-site, according to court records. The stimulant can keep patrons in front of machines for hours in a hyper-focused and confident state. It also entices them to come back for more. “Illegal gambling dens bring drugs, violence, guns, and other organized criminal activity into San Diego neighborhoods,” said FBI spokeswoman Davene Butler. That violence has grown increasingly conspicuous in the last year.
A fugitive was arrested Tuesday in what authorities are calling a gambling room shootout that killed two people, including a 15-year-old boy. The U.S. Marshals Service Southern Ohio Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team arrested Jay Harris on an outstanding warrant from Hamilton County for two counts of murder. According to a release from the U.S. Marshals Service, Harris was allegedly involved in a robbery at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Sycamore Township on Nov. 1, 2019. Authorities say the shootout stemmed from a night of gambling inside of a hotel room. That night of gambling included craps and betting on a Madden football video game, officials said, in which thousands of dollars exchanged hands.
A federal prosecutor hinted at expansive evidence including “a large number” of recordings as a man with purported mob ties pleaded guilty Wednesday to running an illegal sports gambling operation. Gregory Paloian, of Elmwood Park, also admitted he filed a false 2016 tax return. He entered his plea during a video conference before U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow, and he now faces a likely prison sentence of between two and three years. Kinney said Paloian’s operation involved “five or more people.” He said Paloian had agents who recruited gamblers. And he said they used a website in a foreign country to place bets. The prosecutor also said Paloian filed a 2016 tax return reflecting a negative income of $77,229, when he actually made at least $95,220 that year. Paloian’s plea agreement says he took wagers on professional football, basketball, baseball and hockey games, as well as college sporting events.
An Alabama woman will spend the next year in federal prison after pleading guilty to stealing more than $400,000 from two cities where she served as clerk. Kim Wright Green, 50, of Loxley, Alabama pleaded guilty a year ago to embezzling $400,030 from the cities of Creola and Prichard. Green was city clerk of Creola from January 2013 to February 2017, and city clerk of Prichard from May 2017 through August of 2019. Green admitted to federal prosecutors that she gambled some of the stolen money at casinos. However, specific casinos were not identified. Alabama does not have commercial casinos with slot machines and table games. But it is home to three tribal casinos owned and operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Wind Creek Montgomery, Atmore, and Wetumpka operate Class II Native American gaming. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), Class II facilities can offer gaming machines that are based on bingo. Class II casinos are specifically prohibited from operating slot machines and house-banked table games (blackjack, roulette).
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