Storage Area Filling Up With Gambling Items

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - A storage building in this city is now stuffed with more than 400 betting machines and mounds of instant-bingo tickets seized in gambling raids.

"It looks like a storage room for Atlantic City," said Akron police Lt. Jim Phister, head of a task force that Monday seized the items, along with more than $600,000 from homes, taverns, businesses and instant-bingo storefronts in several Northeast Ohio counties.

The task force also has frozen at least six local bank accounts and one offshore account in an investigation of individuals and charities using video bingo machines and instant-bingo tickets to raise money that should have gone to charity.

Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery on Tuesday called the 11-month case that culminated in the raids the most complex undertaking by law enforcement in her seven-year tenure.

"This is a wide-open gambling state," Montgomery said at a news conference at the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation offices in Richfield, between Cleveland and Akron.

Nearly 600 local, state and federal agents joined in the raid, serving more than 150 search warrants. Police served 25 of those in Cuyahoga County, where county Prosecutor Bill Mason's office coordinated raids that netted 85 instant-bingo machines and $42,000.

No arrests were made, but authorities are considering charges of illegal gambling, racketeering and money laundering.

Donald E. George, an attorney, denied that his clients who are involved with instant bingo in Akron and Canton have done anything illegal.

"I keep a pretty tight rein on these people," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)