Seven people were arrested Wednesday and nine properties were seized and searched in connection with an almost three year long law enforcement investigation targeting illegal gambling and associated activities in four South Georgia counties.
The charges brought forth include commercial gambling, conspiracy to commit commercial gambling, keeping a gambling place, communication of gambling information and solicitation of another to gamble.
In addition, a civil RICO (rackateer influenced and corrupt organizations) action has been filed by Alapaha Judicial Circuit District Attorney Dick Perryman's Office seeking to seize assets, property and proceeds from the alleged gambling operations.
The joint investigation, named "Operation Liberty Bell", was conducted over the last 31 months and involved the direct participation of the Lanier County Sheriff's Office, the Alapaha Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office, the Georgia Department of Revenue Office of Specials Investigations and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations Gambling Enforcement Unit with the support from the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, Berrien County Sheriff's Office, FBI Gang Task Force, the Ray City Police Department, U.S. Department of Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) and other law enforcement agencies in the region.
The investigation was launched locally by Lanier County Sheriff's Charles "Nick" Norton when he assigned two special investigators to take a long term look at gambling in the county which led to a much broader investigation into organized criminal activity throughout the region and the involvement of the other investigative partners.
A total of eighteen warrants have been issued in connection with the case for Nilesh S. Patel (Neal Patel), Bhagavatiben N. Patel, Bhavinkumar Maheshbai Joshi (Bobby Joshi), Steven Maurice Meadors Jr., Austin Hughes Woods, Rajendrakumar K. Patel (Raj Patel) and Dharmistaben R. Patel (Tina Patel).
It is possible that additional criminal charges will be brought after the collection and review of evidence seized in today's raids and could result in additional individuals being charged.
The civil RICO action filed by District Attorney Dick Perryman's Office alleges that Nilesh Patel and multiple other individuals profited illegally from Coin Operated Amusement Machines (COAMS). The complaint alleges that for years multiple individuals, headed by Mr. Patel, operated RICO enterprise and multiple corporations whose sole purpose was illegal gambling and the hiding and laundering of the profits of that illegal gambling.
It is alleged that these illegal gambling operations were carried on in multiple counties to include Lanier, Lowndes, Berrien and Clinch. It is believed that these gambling operations netted millions of dollars per year in illegal proceeds.
"I am grateful for all the hard work put into this case by law enforcement and am especially proud of how well all of these law enforcement agencies collaborated in this complex and time consuming investigation. Crimes of all shape, form and fashion diminish our communities and affect our citizens. We have seen people hooked on gambling squander away entire paychecks in a few hours or gamble away their whole Social Security checks in less than a day because of the draw of illegal cash payouts," said District Attorney Dick Perryman. "My office and local law enforcement are committed to protecting the security of our citizens and communities."
In total, more than 40 agents, investigators and deputy sheriff's launched the raids in a simultaneous and coordinated fashion. One location in Berrien County was searched, one location in Clinch County was searched, three locations in Lowndes County and four locations in Lanier County were searched.
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