ROSEBORO — JMJ Coin Laundry, part of a massive sweepstakes bust in December, was raided again Monday after an “open” sign was put in the window over the weekend and the place was deemed back in business, supposedly as a coffee shop.
Working on several tips, agents with the Sampson County Sheriff’s Special Investigations Division responded to the business at 206 East MLK Blvd., Roseboro, on Monday. They found no coffee, but hauled off 11 gaming machines, arrested the proprietor and cited six people with gambling, including one man who was also served with felony warrants.
“We received a complaint they were back in business,” said the SID agent in charge of the investigation. No names of SID agents are disclosed to protect undercover investigations, but they spoke to The Independent as the last of the machines were being loaded up. “We had several tips over the weekend and we saw the ‘open’ sign. We came in and the machines were back in here.”
Agents found six people on machines and noted that the previous proprietor, Tommy Nguyen, was also in the business but told agents his brother, Nam Hoang Nguyen, was running the establishment this time around.
Both were charged with a felony count of unlawful operation of server-based video gaming machines and cited for misdemeanor gambling. The two were placed under $10,000 secured bond apiece. Tommy was charged in December as part of the joint undercover probe into sweepstakes and video poker operations by Alcohol Law Enforcement and the Sampson Sheriff’s Office, the reason JMJ was shut down in the first place.
In all, some 200 sweepstakes and video poker machines, along with an undisclosed amount of cash, were seized following the search of the four Sampson County businesses that law enforcement officials said were operating as illegal gambling establishments, as well as a convenience store where terminals were also operating. JMJ along with Top Catz in Autryville, Roseboro Overstock and Clinton Overstock were all searched as part of that operation, along with an additional business licensed by the N.C. Education Lottery, Lucky Stop in Autryville, where four video poker machines were located.
Eight individuals were charged at that time, including Tommy Nguyen, who received three felony counts of operating five or more server-based video gaming machines and three counts of gambling.
On Monday, it was Sampson’s SID agents who swiftly removed the machines from JMJ for a second time. There were less machines this time around, but still a significant number, said SID agents, who noted it was a particularly brazen move considering JMJ was firmly on the county’s radar following December’s bust. The machines were also being kept in the front room of the building and the bright screens from the terminals could be seen through the window.
In addition to the Nguyens, six people were all charged on citation with misdemeanor gambling, including David Christopher Stuart, Amanda Faye Burch, James Earl Hargrove, Bessie Bailey Hargrove, Andre Royal and Carolyn Royal. All were released with the exception of Stuart, who authorities said was wanted by the state on a felony probation violation for drug-related offenses. He was placed under $25,000 secured bond.
Agents questioned why Nam Hoang Nguyen would re-open the business when his brother was busted a month and a half ago, but Nguyen insisted that he thought the operations were legal.
“I need the money,” he said. “Now my money is all gone.”
Nguyen was cooperative with sheriff’s authorities, to say the least, hanging around in the business as agents stripped it bare, wheeling machine after machine into a waiting truck and checking every square inch of the structure for any other paraphernalia or surveillance equipment. His brother Tommy was kept outside with Stuart while agents completed their work.
“I bought those machines and that money is gone now. It’s your money,” Nam Hoang Nguyen said to the lead SID agent with a laugh, “it needs to be my money.”
He said that the 11 machines — nine were working and two were inoperable — were brought back in to assist in the moneymaking venture, which he planned to also operate as a laundromat and coffee shop. He invested in the machines to kick-start the family business, having been told he could pocket at least $300 a night on the machines alone.
“It’s fast money,” he said. “I thought they were legal, but nobody was coming in that much.”
Authorities said they seized $2,893 in addition to the 11 terminals. Nguyen was staying in Fayetteville, but said he used to live in Georgia.
“I know it was legal in Georgia,” he remarked. “Nothing I can do now.”
State efforts to outlaw video gambling have led to multiple lawsuits and the N.C. Attorney General’s Office has fought in court to uphold the ban. In December 2012, the N.C. Supreme Court upheld the law, paving the way for law enforcement and District Attorneys to take action against violators. Enforcement has occurred since then, but gray area in the law kept many operations going, depending on their location and authorities’ discretion.
They are being shut down in Sampson — plain and simple, sheriff’s officials said. Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said that point evidently isn’t getting across to some.
“Apparently these individuals do not take the law very serious,” Thornton said of the JMJ’s second bust. “Having been recently charged they showed a disregard for law enforcement and the community.”
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.