Internet Café Owner, Corporation and Three Others Arraigned for Operating an Illegal Slot Parlor
“Leo’s Place” Café Operated in Fall River and Fairhaven
FALL RIVER - The owner of two Internet cafés and his corporation have been arraigned on charges of operating an illegal slot parlor, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today. Three other individuals have also been arraigned on gaming charges in connection with operations out of “Leo’s Place” Internet cafés in Fall River and Fairhaven.
Leo Pelletier, 66, of Fall River, was arraigned on charges of organizing or promoting gambling services, operating an illegal lottery, allowing lotteries in a building, and the sale and advertising of lottery tickets. Pelletier allegedly operated two “Leo’s Place” Internet cafés through his corporation New England Internet Cafés, LLC (NEIC). The corporation faces these same charges.
Ron Sevigny, 66, of Fall River; Linda Pelletier, 47, of Spring Hill, Florida; and Donald Greenidge, 52, of Shoreham, New York were also arraigned today. These defendants were each arraigned on charges of organizing or promoting gambling services, and operating an illegal lottery. Linda Pelletier was also charged with the sale and advertising of lottery tickets.
Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to run or promote a gambling operation. The current gambling law in this case points to the existence of an illegal “lottery.” The definition of a lottery includes a payment to play, a prize, and some element of chance.
In February 2011, the Attorney General’s Office began an investigation into “Leo’s Place” locations in Fairhaven and Fall River. Evidence gathered during the course of the investigation demonstrates that patrons of these Internet cafés were paying nearly exclusively for the right to gamble. Authorities allege that patrons were not, as suggested by the operators, simply paying for Internet time and playing a free sweepstakes. Investigators also allege that, “no purchase required” opportunities were of no legal significance and gambling was the only clear purpose for these cafés. Both locations ceased operations in the wake of the AG’s investigation.
A Special Statewide Grand Jury returned indictments against all four defendants on October 27. Today, all four defendants were individually arraigned in Bristol Superior Court where each pleaded not guilty and were released on personal recognizance. The defendants will be back in court on January 27, 2012, for a pre-trial conference. Justice Gary A. Nickerson presided over the arraignment. These charges are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Today’s actions by the Attorney General’s Office are a direct result of complaints regarding alleged unlawful gambling operations that have recently opened for business across the Commonwealth. While these businesses purport to sell goods or services, such as Internet access or phone cards, the Attorney General’s investigation found that those sales were a pretext for unlawful and unregulated lotteries, online slot parlors, sweepstakes, and similar gambling. The AG’s office issued permanent civil regulations in June under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act that bans the operation of so called “Internet Cafés” and other establishments across the Commonwealth. Those that violate the law may be subject to injunctions, civil penalties and other relief under the Consumer Protection Act.
In July, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and AG Coakley filed legislation that further enhances the criminal penalties for illegal gambling at “cyber cafés” throughout Massachusetts. The proposed legislation establishes a new crime for conducting or promoting an unauthorized sweepstakes that is executed through the use of the entertaining display of an electronic machine. The new crime would carry a penalty of up to $250,000 per offending machine and/or imprisonment of up to 15 years in the state prison.
The Attorney General’s investigations into various Internet cafés throughout the Commonwealth remains active and ongoing.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorneys General Thomas Ralph and Timothy Wyse of the AG’s Cyber Crime Division, and AAG Lee Hettinger, Chief of the Western Massachusetts Regional Office. The Attorney General’s Computer Forensic Laboratory, Senior Investigator Mark Pulli, and State Police assigned to the Office of Attorney General Martha Coakley all assisted in the investigation.