Crime

Convenience-mart ‘casino’ near Macon murder site among stores raided in gambling bust

Raids and seizures Wednesday at Middle Georgia convenience stores where electronic gaming machines were allegedly big business include a Macon food mart that was the scene of an April stickup thought to have spawned gunfire that claimed the lives of two innocent people.

Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke, in announcing the raids, which were part of civil and criminal cases the authorities are pursuing, said a months-long racketeering investigation into allegedly illegal commercial gambling involved two stores in Macon and one in Fort Valley.

The civil action brought by Cooke’s office also names a food mart in Houston County.

The DA said six stores across the state were searched Wednesday as part of the civil action, which named 41 individual defendants and 61 business entities in an alleged statewide conspiracy, which includes accusations of money laundering. Arrests were expected but the number of people jailed was not immediately available.

The lawsuit also contends the defendants failed to pay more than $10 million in taxes.

Jaffary’s Food Court — one of two Macon stores implicated — sits next to Church’s Chicken at the corner of Pio Nono Avenue on the southern fringe of the city’s Unionville neighborhood.

The store was once known as the Wash Pot and Grocery. It used to have a coin-operated laundry attached to it. In the late 1990s, the Wash Pot was the leading seller of lottery tickets in Middle Georgia. During the lottery’s first half-decade in Georgia, patrons there bought more than $5 million worth of tickets.

After a pair of homicides nearby in mid-April, Bibb Sheriff David Davis described Jaffary’s as “a casino that happens to be modeling itself as a convenience store.”

The sheriff’s remark came as he was speaking to reporters, describing that April 14 double slaying. In the moments after a stickup at the store, Marlon Jermaine “Bobo” Williams, 44, who had been inside watching his common-law wife play one of the machines, hustled outside to get away from the bandit.

Williams was gunned down half a block away, just south of Anthony Road on Mason Street, which parallels Pio Nono Avenue.

The bullets didn’t stop there. One sailed up Mason, traveling more than 300 yards, killing retired elementary school teacher Ann Kathleen Leonard, 75, who was inside her house on Vining Circle.

On Wednesday, Cooke, the DA, said stores like Jaffary’s are attractive to stickup men because “large sums of cash” are on hand. He said the stores can be trouble, too, for locals who frequent them.

“People get addicted to these machines,” Cooke said.

In Georgia, the machines are legal, but cash payouts are not. And cash payouts, or allegations of them, are part of what has landed the machines’ operators in trouble.

The Atlanta-area companies cited in the lawsuit are said to have put the machines “at purported legitimate businesses across the state so customers could illegally gamble for the chance to win cash prizes,” Cooke said in a statement.

According to the lawsuit, customers across the state who in 2017 played on machines owned by some of the Atlanta-area defendants — Nasiruddin Virani, Rohil Virani and Junaid N. Virani — fed roughly $65 million into the machines and won about $46 million. Those defendants alone netted nearly $20 million in profit that year, Cooke said.

Other midstate stores named in the lawsuit include Vineville Food Mart at 3224 Vineville Ave. in Macon; Knoxville Food Mart at 601 Knoxville Road in Fort Valley; and Houston Lake Food Mart at 1946 Houston Lake Road in Kathleen.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.

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