2018-01-10 / Front Page

Two maquinitas raided by Willacy task force Saturday - other operators suddenly close before police arrive

BY ALLEN ESSEX
Reporter


TASK FORCE RAIDS emptied out Sebastian 8-liners Saturday evening. 
(Courtesy Photo) TASK FORCE RAIDS emptied out Sebastian 8-liners Saturday evening. (Courtesy Photo) Nine people were arrested in raids at two Sebastian 8- liner gaming rooms Saturday, carried out by a task force from the Willacy County Sheriff’s Office, Raymondville Police Department, Lyford Police Department and a constable’s office, assisted by the Willacy County District Attorney’s Office.

The nine who were charged with gambling-related offices were from the Rio Grande Valley. All were charged with gambling promotion, a Class A misdemeanor; keeping a gambling place, Class A; possession of a gambling device, Class A; engaging in organized criminal activity, a state jail felony; money laundering, state jail felony; and two were charged with tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony.

Nine more people were detained and turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol for processing and possible deportation, Sheriff Larry G. Spence said.


CASH GAME MACHINES, equipment and furniture were seized and will be auctioned off after the District Attorney’s Office seeks ownership through a forfeiture petition. 
(Courtesy Photo) CASH GAME MACHINES, equipment and furniture were seized and will be auctioned off after the District Attorney’s Office seeks ownership through a forfeiture petition. (Courtesy Photo) Police seized approximately $45,000 in cash, along with 230 gambling machines and various other items purchased with illegally obtained money such as prizes, coffee pots, popcorn machines and miscellaneous items, Spence said.

During the raids, it became impossible to determine who was an employee or patron of the 8-liners arcades.

Employees removed jackets or vests that identified them as casino workers and blended in with crowds of patrons, the sheriff said. Operators and patrons at the rest of the estimated 10 “maquinitas” in Sebastian fled quickly, removing cash and other evidence from those establishments, their cars joining those of many game room patrons and rubberneckers who added to the traffic jam that ensued, the sheriff said.

“It was pretty hectic,” Spence said.

“We found $6,000 in cash in a trash can, mixed in with garbage to conceal it,” Spence said.

Sebastian resident Joe Bridgman said the raid, even if it was only on two maquinitas, has already made a dramatic change in Sebastian, which has in recent months been very noisy with heavy traffic, sounds of revving engines, squealing tires, horns honking and plagued with trash strewn everywhere.

On Monday, he said the noise level had gone way down.

“Last night, it was so quiet, it was spooky,” he said. “It reminded me of Sebastian, the way it used to be.”

Some of the 8-liners still opened on Sunday, after Saturday’s raid, he said.

“One small 8-liner behind my home was not closed down,” he said.

Although patrons were not arrested for engaging in alleged illegal gambling, their names and identifications were recorded on lists so that, if arrested in a future raid, they can be charged with gambling offenses, the sheriff said.

Arrested at “Sizzling 777” at 200 W.Main St., Sebastian, were: Eduardo Garcia, 44, Port Isabel, bond set at $30,000; Jesus Pedraza, 31, Harlingen, bond $30,000; Amy Gomez, 34, Raymondville, $17,000 (tampering with evidence); Vanessa Salazar, 20, Raymondville, bond $3,500 (tampering with evidence). Two more people from that gaming hall were turned over turned over to the Border Patrol.

At “Travieso,” Farm-to- Market Road 13088 in Sebastian, five people were arrested: Jose Romo Moreno, San Benito, 42, bond $30,000; Miguel Aguirre, 23, Rio Grande City, bond $25,000; Maricela Caballero, 46, San Benito, bond $3,000; Michelle Hernandez, 27, San Benito, bond $17,000; Laura Morales, 27, Rio Grande City, bond $3,000.

Seven more people from the raid at Travieso were turned to the Border Patrol.

All those arrested were booked into the Willacy County jail and were arraigned Sunday. Bonds for multiple charges ranged from $3,000 to $30,000.

During a Lyford City Commission meeting Monday, District Attorney Annette Hinojosa said any real estate, vehicles or other property seized by the new Willacy County Task Force will be subject to a forfeiture petition, auctioned off and the proceeds will be divided among the county and cities whose police departments participated in the task force’s operation.

Lyford officials passed an ordinance last year to limit the number of maquinitas in their town to five. One was shut down in a raid by the sheriff, leaving four still operating.

This year, annual fees and per-machine fees must be all paid in January, rather than prorated each month, so more gaming halls may close voluntarily, city officials said.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2018-01-10 digital edition