DECATUR, Ga. (AP) - Authorities on Tuesday raided seven long-distance calling card stores that prosecutors said were fronts for illegal Internet gambling cafes.
James Kokott, owner of Big Dawg Calling Cards, was arrested at the multi-county operation's Conyers location on racketeering charges, authorities said. A DeKalb County indictment accuses Kokott and two business partners of setting up the business to get around laws prohibiting gambling.
In addition to Kokott, the indictment also names two managers, James A. Clemmons and his wife Marilyn Clemmons. The three, all of whom live in Columbus, pulled in more than $3 million in the last year alone, authorities said.
"The amount of money that was funneled through this operation was definitely astounding," Nicole Marchand, DeKalb County chief assistant district attorney, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after a raid at the operation's Doraville location.
"These perpetrators lined their pockets with the hard-earned dollars of everyday citizens under the false pretense of a legitimate lottery and sweepstakes," DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an email Tuesday.
The company operated seven cafes - one each in Doraville, Douglasville, LaGrange, Albany and Conyers, and two in Columbus - that the indictment alleges were part of a sweepstakes operation attached to the long-distance calling cards they sold.
Customers were told they had to play the sweepstakes to buy the cards, authorities said. Customers would put money on the cards to use in gambling machines and would gain winnings to redeem for cash, authorities said. That's against the law in Georgia.
"Gov. Deal directed the GBI to start investigations into Internet cafes to try to get a handle on it before it got out of control," Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said. "As part of the investigations, they would send an undercover agent into the (seven) locations . and play the games."
Authorities searched the seven cafes and Kokott's home on Tuesday, but noted the main database is located outside of Georgia.
This kind of businesses directly targets the poor, Marchand said.
"They're always taking advantage of the folks who have the least amount of money and should be using it to take care of their families," she said.
Kokott was arrested Tuesday afternoon and was to be booked into the DeKalb County jail, GBI officials said. Neither James nor Marilyn Clemmons was in custody late Tuesday afternoon, police said.
It wasn't immediately clear whether any of the three had a lawyer.