Several businesses in Candler and Emanuel counties were locked down Thursday as an investigation into illegal gambling unfolded.
Metter Police Chief Dennis Nelson said two stores in Metter – the Cedar Center Store (JP Mart) on Cedar Street and the Peaches convenience store (Chevron) on South Lewis Street “were seized … as the result of a four-month-long commercial gambling investigation. Several arrests were made, and cash and machines were seized.”
According to reports, the Minit Mart No. 23 on Ga. 46 and Food Mart on Pulaski Highway near the Bulloch County line also were closed down.
Warrants for 10 Candler County suspects arrested were not signed until late Friday, said Heyward Altman, the Middle Judicial Circuit district attorney. All 10 are in custody without bond, and one suspect is still at large. The suspects, whose identities will be released Monday, are charged with commercial gambling, and some also were charged with keeping a gambling place.
Stores in Emanuel County were raided as well, said Allen Watson, the commander of the East Central Georgia Drug Task Force, which participated in the raids. Other participating agencies were the Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Metter Police Department, Candler County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia State Patrol, Statesboro Police Department and Georgia Department of Revenue. Assisting were the Swainsboro Police Department, Emanuel County Sheriff’s Department, and U.S. Marshals.
“We appreciate assistance by (other agencies) in our investigation,” Watson said. “I know the public has been complaining for some period of time (to various law enforcement agencies). … The complaints have not fallen onto deaf ears. It just takes time to put a case of this magnitude together properly.”
Swainsboro Police Chief Randy Ellison said the arrests followed a larger raid that netted several arrests in 2010.
“Recently, law enforcement began receiving additional information indicating commercial gambling locations were reappearing in Swainsboro,” he said. “A multi-agency team began an investigation based on recent intelligence and launched a new investigation lasting several months.
“Several Swainsboro citizens reported t9 law enforcement vital information throughout this recent investigation,” he continued. “This type of investigation takes an exorbitant amount of time to complete. With these recent arrests, citizens have once again shown that the Swainsboro community will pull together and work diligently with law enforcement to rid our community of criminal activity.”
Businesses called Swainsboro Gifts and Cellular and North Main Street Beauty Supply were fronts for illegal gambling, according to reports.
While arrest information in the Candler County raids was not immediately available Friday, the following were arrested in Emanuel County on charges of commercial gambling, racketeering, and keeping a gambling place: Ashek Patel, John Murdock, Cindy Marsh, Betty Silas, Samuel Mendez and Malay Bhatt, all of Swainsboro; and Steven Young, of Decatur.
Ages and street addresses for those arrested were not immediately available Friday. Ellison said further arrests are expected as the investigations continue. Altman said the Emanuel County suspects were held without bond.
Candler County Sheriff Homer Bell was in court Friday regarding the gambling raids and was not immediately available for comment.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.