Police Raid Enfield, Bloomfield Businesses In Gambling Investigation [The Hartford Courant :: ]
(Hartford Courant (CT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 11--ENFIELD -- Police raided a number of computer businesses in Enfield and Bloomfield on Tuesday as part of a 3-week investigation into illegal gambling, according to officials from the Chief State's Attorney's office and the state police.
The raids occurred Tuesday morning at The Mouse Pad Business Center & Tech Solutions at 483 Enfield St. and the Bloomfield Business Center at 701 Park Ave.
The businesses, along with others in the state, have advertised that they offer "internet sweepstakes." Such sweepstakes are simply unregulated gambling dens, said a state senator who has proposed legislation to make it clear the businesses are illegal.
In Enfield Tuesday, State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance said authorities collected about 200 pieces of evidence and said arrests are possible. He said the investigation began with a tip.
The Enfield business, Vance said, offers a sweepstakes contest for people who buy telephone calling cards or internet time. Police obtained the search warrants after investigating and determining the businesses may have been engaging in "professional gambling" and possessed "gambling devices."
A St. Louis attorney who represented The Mouse Pad during its application to Enfield's Planning and Zoning Commission, and who specializes in gaming law, said Tuesday the business had done nothing wrong.
"The Mouse Pad business center has conducted an entirely lawful business in Enfield," Thomas F. Fricke said. "We are not going to comment publicly on any proceeding that is pending. We have every expectation that we will be fully vindicated by the courts."
State Sen. Danté Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, cited the Enfield and Bloomfield businesses Jan. 31 when she announced legislation that would "further codify what I already believe to be true: sweepstakes cafes are illegal casinos, offering nothing more than slot machines disguised as computers."
She called the businesses "illegal casinos masquerading as legitimate businesses."
"These sweepstakes cafes are like a cancer spreading throughout our communities, taking advantage of seniors and others lured in by the false promise of easy money," Bartolomeo said. "In states where action was not taken quickly, these illegal casinos multiplied by the hundreds, exploiting thousands of people."
Bloomfield police said they served warrants at the Bloomfield Business Center and storage units on Old Windsor Road. They also arrested a Manchester man they say interfered with the investigation.
Derieka Henry, 32, was charged breach of peace and interfering with police and released without having to post bail, police said.
Bloomfield Police Chief Paul Hammick said Tuesday that the department began to look into the Bloomfield Business Center after speaking to a resident soon after it opened.
"I got a tip from a community member who said 'this doesn't look on the up and up,'" Hammick said.
Hammick said their preliminary investigation led them to the conclusion that there was illegal activity taking place.
"There was very little legitimate business being conducted," he said. "Most of them were not there for legitimate business, they were there for sweepstakes prize."
Hammick said Bloomfield also reached out to state authorities who were looking into similar operations in other towns and they began to coordinate efforts.
As a result of Tuesday's search warrant, the department seized all of the company's equipment, effectively shutting it down.
Hammick said he expects arrests in the coming weeks and that the investigation would reach into other states.
In addition to state and local police, the Chief State's Attorney's office and state special revenue officials are investigating.
"Sweepstakes cafes are a relatively recent development in Connecticut, but they have a very sordid track record in other states," said state Senator Joan V. Hartley, D-Waterbury, who is senate chairwoman of the legislature's public safety committee.
"Gambling is an operation that we take very seriously here in Connecticut, and these types of operations masquerade as something they are not in order to avoid proper oversight. This is obviously an issue that we need to address immediately. A lot of vulnerable populations -- especially the elderly and minors -- are targeted by these illegal operations."
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