Two Internet cafes were raided and five people arrested Friday in what Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford said was an investigation into illegal gambling.
Two businesses operating under the name "Senior Social Centers" on Jacksonville's Westside were raided by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office in a joint operation with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney's Office. Police had the businesses on Normandy and Blanding boulevards closed and officers were seen carrying out computer equipment and records.
Rutherford said these businesses were offering slot machine and other gambling play on computer terminals.
"It is clear these businesses were offering casino-style games of chance," Rutherford said.
Undercover officers documented the gambling by using the online games. He said they won up to $136, but more often lost money using the terminals.
Five employees of the businesses were arrested on charges of possession of a gambling device and keeping a gambling house. Shonderika Lowery, Gynarva Monroe, Antonio Hodges, Joyce McCaffrey and Felicia Maxwell were all arrested and booked into the Duval County jail Friday afternoon.
JSO booking photos of (from left) Felicia Maxwell, Joyce McCaffrey, Gynarva Monroe, Shonderika Lowery and Antonio Hodges
Patrons at businesses when they were raided were questioned and released without facing any charges.
Other patrons who arrived after the raid, including Johnnie Elhasan, were turned away.
“Cops told me, 'Your not allowed to go in. We are shutting the place down,'” Elhasan said. “They shut it down and open it, shut it down and open it. The government looks like they don't know what they are doing, honestly.”
The two locations raided Friday were among several locations of "Pete's Retreat" that were raided in April. No arrests were made in that raid.
In a statewide crackdown on the Internet gaming centers last year, 49 Allied Veterans of the World locations were closed and 57 people were arrested on racketeering, gambling and money laundering charges. A Jacksonville lawyer -- Kelly Mathis -- who prosecutors called the mastermind of the scheme, was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison.
The sheriff said he wants to be clear to those who keep reopening these businesses that he will not tolerate illegal gambling in Jacksonville.
"If you're given payouts through these machines, you can pretty much guarantee they're illegal," Rutherford said. "That's the message. If you're out there running them, we may be in your place doing an undercover operation today."
The sheriff is also warning landlords of these facilities, to be aware that they could also face prosecution for housing the internet cafes as tenants.
"For those owners who wish support and invest in these illegal gambling practices, I can assure you that you are throwing away your valued resources in the trash. Those who have continued in the past we often seize exemplars in these operations and we are now seizing every piece of electronics in the business used to commit the crime," said Rutherford.
Customers, however, said the low-stakes games they play are more entertaining than anything else.
"Stuff like this is really helping the public," Elhasan said, “Helping the older people with nothing to do, like losing $10, winning $10.”