The Harris County Sheriff’s Department has raided several Houston area bingo halls. One of the raids in particular yielded finds including an underground bunker with guns, ammo, and cash — $87,000 in cash to be specific. Body armor was also found at the scene. Twelve arrests were made in a case that threatens to blow an organized crime ring wide open.
Devon Anderson, Harris County district attorney, announced the raids on Friday. In addition to the Paradise Day and Night Bingo Hall, they also conducted raids on five other game rooms. The bingo hall contained slot-type machines that customers played for cash prizes. The machines and the games are illegal. Investigators with the district attorney’s office say the bingo hall’s owners had their own ATM machines which they used to launder illegally earned money to the tune of about $15 million over the past four years.
“There was a bunker here; it may be something more Doomsdayish. Every weapon will be looked at, every serial number run to see if they were stolen or used in any other crimes.”
The size of the haul, as well as the military nature of some of the items, were enough to spark major concern. Harris County Sheriff’s Department’s Lt. Ruben Diaz said it was as many weapons as he’d ever seen in one raid.
“It was enough to start a small war in this area if they wanted to. They were pretty scary to have in this building.”
The guns and ammo were allegedly purchased with earnings obtained from the illegal gaming operations. Investigators believe the people charged during the raids were part of a larger crime ring that used illegal gambling machines to make money. The investigation prior to the raids was conducted by members of the special crimes division and the Harris County Sheriff’s department. The case has been under investigation for almost a year and required an extensive amount of undercover work. Surveillance was conducted of the alleged figures at the top of the organization who reportedly earned millions of dollars from their operations.
The windows of the bingo hall are plastered with orange notices informing that the business was seized as criminal contraband. The property boasts a large sign reading, “Daytime Bingo” and “Nighttime Bingo” in a commercial shopping center next to a Waffle House and Dairy Queen. The bingo hall is one of the few business that remain in the strip center. At least four surveillance cameras point at the parking lot. Tables and chairs fill the inside, reportedly enough to seat a few hundred people. An American flag hangs at the front of the expansive room above an ATM machine. The seemingly harmless bingo hall even boasts a sign listing the house rules. The eighth rule reads, “Absolutely no gambling of any kind will be allowed.” Plaques from the Shriners and the South Houston Police Department hang on the walls, lending even more apparent credibility to the operation.
Five of the people who were arrested by the sheriff’s department appeared in court Friday for the illegal business they allegedly operated for over four years, according to Houston NBC affiliate KPRC. District Attorney Devon Anderson maintains that there have been increased crimes surrounding the operation of these illegal gaming rooms.
“It’s because it’s a cash business. First of all the machines are not regulated, so they can be changed by the owners to rip off every customer that brings their hard-earned money in there to spend. But secondly, they are a target for hijackers. We have many aggravated robberies and I’ve seen capital murders in and around game rooms.”
Anderson went on to say that prosecutors had worked in conjunction with the sheriff’s department during the lengthy investigation. She also said Harris County has their eyes on several other game rooms in the area and that her office is focusing on the owners of the establishments instead of their employees. The sheriff’s department raids of Houston bingo halls will continue, according to Anderson. The underground bunker full of guns, ammo, and cash may be just the beginning of the fruits of investigators’ efforts.
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