Local police in North Carolina and U.S. Homeland Security agents raided multiple video gambling businesses in two counties and seized almost $760,000 using asset forfeiture.
For over a year, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO) received reports of alleged illegal video gambling operations in the county. There were a variety of complaints made regarding these alleged businesses. Families were accusing members of spending their paychecks or COVID-19 stimulus checks at these purported gambling sites. There were also reports of armed individuals around these areas, patrons getting mugged as soon as they stepped out, drug trafficking and overdoses, and more.
RCSO began an investigation on these places in response to the complaints from the community. In January 2020, the sheriff’s office issued a warning to these businesses to halt their operations or be subject to arrests and seizures. This warning was reportedly received in a lukewarm manner; some sites followed the directive while others ignored it and stayed open. A few closed down their businesses but reopened after a few days.
One allegedly illegal business retaliated by filing a “Motion for Temporary Restraining Order Preliminary Injunctive Relief” against the county sheriff. The business was identified as Gold Fish LLC based in Mocksville. It reportedly has 13 sweepstakes locations in the county.
After further investigation, the sheriff’s office executed search warrants in four of these alleged gambling dens and one residence. During the search and seizure operation, RCSO took possession of hundreds of gambling machines, tens of thousands in cash, and guns. They also reportedly arrested the personnel present during the search. With the help of Homeland Security, RCSO extended the crackdown to Mocksville in Cabarrus and made a similar search and seizure operation in March 2020. Based on their records, they seized an additional 175 gaming machines. They also took approximately $38,000 in cash from three businesses and more than $728,000 from two residences in Concord.
Under North Carolina’s rigid civil asset forfeiture laws, local authorities can legally seize the property from the alleged gambling dens because this could be a racketeering case. The statutes for organized racketeering crimes call only for a preponderance of the evidence that the seized property was involved in criminal behaviors.
Law enforcement in North Carolina can’t keep the forfeiture proceeds because the state has strong safeguards against unjust property seizures. A loophole to get around that requirement is the Department of Justice’s equitable sharing program. The program allows local law enforcement to team up with federal agencies (like Homeland Security) when investigating crimes. Property seized using civil forfeiture through this cooperation is shared by the two agencies. It effectively goes around state law by giving a share of forfeiture revenue to local authorities.
The equitable sharing program may be a reason why RCSO enlisted the help of Homeland Security. The money seized during the investigation, which totals $758,000, was turned over to Homeland Security Investigations for civil asset forfeiture.
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