By Joel Hall
After a month's long investigation, the Clayton County Sheriff's Office executed a county-wide crackdown on illegal gambling machines. In the process, authorities made 18 arrests under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act and seized eight gas stations, 43 video poker machines, and approximately $300,000 in cash and checks.
According to Sheriff's Office spokesperson, Sgt. Sonja Sanchez, the raids took place starting at about 8 a.m., on Wednesday morning at gas stations located throughout the county.
Sheriff deputies shut down the following eight establishments on Wednesday:
* The Marathon Gas Station, at 2390 Lake Harbin Road in Morrow,
* The Quick and Cheap, at 2111 Rex Road in Rex,
* The CITGO Gas Station, at 10010 Tara Blvd., in Jonesboro,
* The Texaco Gas Station, at 6551 Ga. Highway 42 in Rex,
* The BP Gas Station, at 6558 Ga. Highway 42 in Rex,
* The Exxon Gas Station, at 6142 Old Dixie Road in Forest Park.
* The Chevron Gas Station, at 6125 Old Dixie Road in Forest Park,
* The Texaco Gas Station, at 7915 Jonesboro Road in Jonesboro.
Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough said the eight gas stations, all private franchises, have been placed into a state of receivership, meaning the county will take ownership of the property until the owners are found innocent in a court of law.
"We are taking actions against the businesses themselves," Kimbrough said. "We changed the locks on the doors. They belong to Clayton County."
"We're seizing them," said Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson. "It means we are basically running the store. Under the RICO statute, we can taken them, and that's what we have done. It's a great thing, because it punishes the bad guys and helps the county. If the court forfeits those businesses, if we sell those businesses, those proceeds can be used for law enforcement."
On Wednesday evening, Sanchez said she could not provide a list of names of the individuals under arrest, as they were still being processed.
Lawson said those found guilty of commercial gambling, would be guilty of a felony and could face one-to-five years in prison and fines up to $20,000. Those found guilty of RICO Act violations could face prison sentences of five-to-20 years and fines of up to $25,000, she said.
Kimbrough said the raids were conducted after the Sheriff's Office received numerous complaints concerning the activities allegedly taking place at those establishments. He said the Sheriff's Office cracked down on the businesses to send a message that Clayton County is "not a playground for criminals anymore."
"The machines are not illegal on their face ... it's how they are used," Kimbrough said. "There is a sense of lawlessness in the county when people can operate illegal activity out in the open. The general public knows it's wrong, and when we find out about something, it is our responsibility to do something about it.
"If you have a neighborhood that has illegal gambling taking place, there are all kinds of secondary effects," he added. "We are trying to change the tone and the tenor of Clayton County. People who are making money through illicit activity have no place in our community."
Kimbrough said the raid has "Homeland Security implications" and that he intends to make information received during the raid available to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
He said the information may uncover if any of the money is "being funneled overseas to promote illegal activity."