Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Forest Park police officers detain Marathon store clerk Dawit Tewolde while other officers search the business. Tewolde is charged with felony commercial gambling but said he is innocent.
FOREST PARK — Six people have been arrested following Wednesday's raid of three local businesses on suspicion of illegal commercial gambling.
Police are looking for three others, said Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson.
Investigators with Lawson's office collaborated with the Forest Park Police Department in the raids, the culmination of a months-long undercover operation. Lawson said officers seized nearly $50,000 in cash and confiscated other assets.
Lawson said illegal commercial gambling in Georgia generates more than $1 billion every year in untaxed funds.
"This is uncollected taxes," she said. "People are spending their money illegally rather than help legitimate businesses. Their money is going to fund illegal enterprises. It's also another thing that brings down the image of the community, it has a negative affect on the county and brings down its reputation."
Forest Park City Manager John Parker said it would be nice to collect taxes from gambling proceeds but that's impossible as long as gambling is illegal in Georgia.
"If we could tax gambling, we would," he said. "The amount of money that may be lost to taxes is unknown to us."
Attorney Michael Lambros, who works with Lawson on the civil side of collecting assets from business owners busted for commercial gambling, said each machine takes in an estimated $35,000 each year.
"At 1 percent sales tax, we could collect $350 per machine," said Parker. "It could turn out to be a pretty handsome sum."
Parker said the stores fronting the illegal gambling operations are also violating the business license issued by the city.
"We expect everyone with a license to do business in accordance with the ordinances and laws of the state of Georgia," he said. "We expect all business owners to comply with all the laws."
Law enforcement agencies do their best to keep up with the unlawful industry, said Lawson.
"They are prolific," she said. "We can shoot one down and another pops up in another place. They just keep coming."
However, people arrested during the raids rarely, if ever, are caught up in a subsequent gambling bust.
"We haven't had any repeat offenders," said Lawson. "Except we had one guy who was charged in another county. But not locally."
One of the six arrested is Dawit Tewolde, a clerk at Marathon on Ga. 54. He's charged with felony commercial gambling. Forest Park police detectives stood with Tewolde Wednesday as uniformed officers searched the store and looked for surveillance equipment.
Tewolde denied participating in illegal gambling.
"There is no gambling," he said. "I never gave out cash, only items like grocery items."
Tewolde was booked into the Clayton County Jail and could face a magistrate Thursday afternoon.
But Lawson said Tewolde and clerks at Sun Coin Laundry and Main Street Grocery have been under surveillance for months. Lawson said winners were given cash, tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets -- all of which are illegal.
The others arrested are Nasir Ahmed, 54, of Doraville; Nassir Uddin Ahmed, 62, of Lilburn; Larry Doan, 52, of Marietta; Mohammed Abdul Latif, 49, of Forest Park and Prova Ahmed, 57, of Lilburn. All are charged with commercial gambling.
Lawson said the owners of all three businesses will be charged and arrested. The stores will be placed in receivership, she said.
"After they are placed in receivership, the stores will be turned back over to the owners so food doesn't spoil but they can't run an illegal gambling place anymore," said Lawson.
Civil racketeering complaints, known as RICO, will also be sought against the owners.
"We can take the entire store and seize bank accounts," she said.
Since taking office in 2009, Lawson's staff has raided more than 20 businesses suspected of illegal gambling. The money and other assets seized are put to good use, said Lawson.
"We get the money to do what needs to be done," she said. "I've bought cars, computers, paid for training, bought equipment and paid for the civil lawyers to handle the RICO cases."
Wednesday's raid won't be the last, said Lawson.
"We're putting them on notice," she said. "We're going to keep coming so get out of Clayton County."