Home Houston Press Releases 2009 Four Charged in Illegal Gambling and Money Laundering Operation

Four Charged in Illegal Gambling and Money Laundering Operation

U.S. Attorney’s Office April 22, 2009
  • Southern District of Texas (713) 567-9000

Thanh V. (Tommy) Bui, 33, Russell Wayne Achord Jr., 40, James Arthur Burke Jr., 30, and Gustavo Alfonzo Alvarez, 41, all from the Clear Lake area, have been indicted for money laundering, structuring financial transactions, and conspiracy to operate an illegal gambling business, acting United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today. The 14-count indictment was returned Wednesday, April 22, 2009. Each of the four defendants will appear before United States Magistrate Judge Calvin Botley next week for arraignment.

The charges stem from the operation of at least six illegal game rooms in Galveston and Harris counties—the Lucky 777 on the Gulf Freeway, the Amusement Palace on FM 2004, the Bay Area on Friendswood Link, the O.C. on Long Point, the Coffee Shop on Scarsdale and the Hideway on 12th Street in Bacliff. The indictment avers that some of these establishments contained approximately 50 “eight-liner” or electronic gaming machines which paid cash payouts in violation of state law. An “eight-liner” is a gambling/gaming machine that resembles a slot machine, but has a tic-tac-toe like grind that gives players eight ways to win. Winnings on eight liners are determined by matching symbols in one of eight lines—three horizontal, three vertical and two diagonal—which gives the machine its name. Under Texas law, it is unlawful to operate or control a gaming business including the operation of eight liner or other electronic gaming machines that award players with cash or merchandise having a value of more than ten times the price to play the device or $5—whichever is less. These game rooms, according to the indictment, were typically open only to private members and some operated 24 hours a day.

In addition to conspiring to operate the illegal game rooms, the defendants are accused of engaging in efforts to conceal the operation of the illegal gaming operation between November 2005 and November 2008. The defendants allegedly concealed the operation by placing business assets and assets purchased with proceeds from the illegal business in the name of third persons, destroying business records each day, paying employees in cash and structuring the purchase of assets with business profits in a manner to avoid financial transaction reporting requirements mandated by federal law.

According to the indictment, items purchased with the proceeds of the illegal business include a 2007 Mercedes Benz S550, a residence located on the 2800 block of Romano Lane in League City, Texas, and a commercial property in Friendswood, Texas. Finally, the indictment places the defendants on notice of the United States’ intent to forfeit their interest not only in these asset but also in $3.9 million alleged to constitute the revenue of the illegal gambling operation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Asset Forfeiture Division has filed a civil forfeiture complaint in connection with the November 2008 seizure of more than $70,000 in cash and the 2007 Mercedes Benz S550 that was purchased with the proceeds of the illegal operation in a structured fashion to avoid the financial transaction reporting requirements.

The maximum penalty for violation of the money laundering statute is up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while the conspiracy and structuring charges each carry a maximum term of imprisonment of up to five years and $250,000 fine.

This case was investigated by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigations with the assistance of the Dickinson Police Department and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ryan D. McConnell with the assistance of Assistant United States Attorney Gerald Doyle of our Asset Forfeiture Section.