COLUMBIA, SC (AP/WIS) - Several South Carolinians find themselves wrapped up in a widening $300-million conspiracy originating in Florida to launder money via Internet cafes, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.
SLED says nine suspects have been arrested and more than $3 million has been seized as a result of the Florida-based investigation into Allied Veterans of the World, Inc., a veterans charity that prosecutors say was a front for the illegal gambling operation.
Allied Veterans evolved from a charitable organization that ran bingo games and held bake sales for veterans beginning in 1979 to a group suspected of operating more than 40 illegal gambling locations around Florida, according to an Internal Revenue Service affidavit. The veterans' charity was a fraud, according to the IRS.
"In an effort to mislead the public into believing that it is not profiting from an illegal gambling enterprise, Allied Veterans and others have engaged in a conspiracy and scheme to defraud," the affidavit said.
From 2007 to early 2012, investigators found evidence of over $6 million in what appear to be charitable donations by Allied Veterans. That amount, however, was only about 2% of the over $290 million made from gambling operations during that time period. Instead of going to veterans, the vast majority of the money went to for-profit companies and the individuals who operated Allied Veterans and its so-called "affiliates."
To play games at one of the Internet cafes, a customer gets a prepaid card and then goes to a computer to play "sweepstakes." The games, with spinning wheels similar to slot machines, have names such as "Captain Cash," ''Lucky Shamrocks" and "Money Bunny," according to the IRS.
Winners go back to a cashier with their cards and cash out. The games have been the subject of much debate in Florida and some are legal as long as most of the profits are donated to charity.
The investigation has also engulfed Florida Lt. Gov Jennifer Carroll, who investigators say her public relations firm did work for the group. Carroll resigned from her post Wednesday morning.
The South Carolinians allegedly involved in this investigation have been slammed with various charges such as conspiracy, manufacturing, selling, or possessing slot machines, and money laundering.
Those suspects have been identified as:
- Johnny Ernest Duncan, 65
- Scott Bernard Pruitt, 43
- Joseph Harrington, 57
- Elaine Harrington, 63
- Eric Jayroe, 37
- Leonard Doyle Lucas, 57
- Joy McAlhaney, 54
- Janis Snapp Ryles, 53
- Timothy Williams, 47
SLED says the investigation is on-going and more arrests are anticipated.