Crime

Three plead guilty to commercial gambling charges

DA describes evidence in Bibb, Peach gambling cases

Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke described the cases against three men charged in commercial gambling cases Wednesday during plea hearings in Bibb County Superior Court. Krunal Patel, Ram Sharma and Arjun Lamichhane each pleade
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Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke described the cases against three men charged in commercial gambling cases Wednesday during plea hearings in Bibb County Superior Court. Krunal Patel, Ram Sharma and Arjun Lamichhane each pleade

About two years after the Bateman & Wade neighborhood grocery store was shuttered in a gambling raid, the store’s former owner pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of commercial gambling.

Krunal Patel, 40, was sentenced as a first offender to five years on probation.

Patel’s businesses, including Bateman & Wade, were seized in 2014 as part of what was then Bibb County’s largest-ever gambling raid. Prosecutors filed a civil racketeering case against Patel and others, seeking the forfeiture of seized money, property and other assets alleged to have been proceeds from illegal gambling.

Patel was among the store owners who agreed to pay a combined $1 million to settle the civil case. Because of that payment, he wasn’t ordered to pay an additional fine or restitution during Wednesday’s hearing in Bibb County Superior Court.

Under the terms of his plea agreement, Patel’s probation could end after two years if he doesn’t incur any violations.

In 2014, the GBI was receiving complaints that coin-operated amusement machines were being operated illegally, District Attorney David Cooke said during the hearing.

The games are regulated by the Georgia Lottery and located across the state in many convenience stores and other locations. It’s illegal for winnings to be paid in cash. Winnings can only be redeemed for store credit, merchandise, lottery tickets or gas.

Cooke said an investigation revealed that there were cash payouts at the store between July and October 2014.

An accusation filed Wednesday against Patel charged him with four counts of commercial gambling. As a result of his plea, the additional charges will be dismissed.

Arjun Sharma Lamichhane, 34, and Ram P. Sharma, 45, operators of Quick Stop, at 1100 Boy Scout Road in Byron, also pleaded guilty to one count each of commercial gambling, and they were sentenced to five years on probation. Like Patel, they were sentenced as first offenders, and their probation may be terminated after two years if they don’t incur any violations.

Lamichhane and Sharma also must pay restitution, but the amount hasn’t been determined yet.

As part of their agreement with prosecutors, Lamichhane and Sharma have agreed to forfeit cash and property seized as part of the 2015 raids on their store.

Cooke said Byron police received complaints of illegal gambling and launched an investigation in Peach County. The probe revealed that Lamichhane and Sharma, or their employees, were making cash payouts, and Lamichhane and Sharma knew the payouts were happening.

Patel, Lamichhane and Sharma must each continue to cooperate with authorities and testify, if needed, in future proceedings as part of their plea deals.

Speaking after the hearings, Cooke said all three defendants “owned up to their mistake and want to make it right.”

“I’m glad we could resolve these cases and move on,” he said.

UNDERREPORTING REVENUE

A 2016 analysis of Georgia Lottery records showed that gambling machine owners and store owners were underreporting revenue generated from the machines before the 2015 installation of a centralized accounting system that automatically reports data from the machines to the state. Previously, store and machine owners had been self-reporting their information.

Between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, Middle Georgians fed $201 million into the machines, an increase of more than $70 million over what store and machine owners had self-reported in calendar year 2014, according to the records.

Cooke filed a multijurisdictional lawsuit last year alleging racketeering and illegal gambling violations at more than 85 convenience stores involving about 70 people and Forest Park-based Sudama Resorts LLC, which owns more than 600 gaming machines.

In the suit, prosecutors said records from the new accounting system revealed a discrepancy between the $15 million in play self-reported for calendar year 2014 and the $12 million played in just three months of 2015. There also were alleged discrepancies in the figures reported for customer winnings and profits.

Several defendants in the case have entered into settlement agreements totaling more than $1 million.

Sudama Resorts, Sandip Patel, Rohini Patel and Nishita Patel agreed to a settlement including the forfeiture of more than $2.6 million and the sale of the company’s machine license, but later backed out. Prosecutors have asked a judge to enforce the agreement, and the matter still is being litigated.

Cooke came under fire this fall when Ronnie and Lee Bartlett, owners of the now-shuttered Captain Jack’s Crab Shack in Byron, filed a lawsuit against him alleging that he and others fabricated evidence in a case against them.

The district attorney’s office filed a racketeering suit against the Bartletts last year after a May 5, 2015, gambling raid turned up alleged evidence of illegal gambling.

Cooke has said the claims of misconduct are false.

Amy Leigh Womack: 478-744-4398, @awomackmacon

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