County attorney: Drugs, cartel activity found during game room raids

A game room on the 3300 block of US 59 South in Cleveland, next to the AM & PM Shell Station, was among three raided Friday night by law enforcement.

By Vanesa Brashier, editor@bluebonnetnews.com

Friday night’s raid on three Cleveland-area game rooms netted more than arrests for illegal gambling. Police found methamphetamine and known Mexican drug cartel members at one location, according to Liberty County Attorney Matthew Poston.

“The gambling itself is not just illegal. These places are havens for all sorts of illegal behavior,” he said.

Poston cited a recent case where a game room operator was robbed at gunpoint and the crime initially went unreported.

“There was a shooting and it wasn’t even reported to police for several hours. These game rooms are prime targets for robberies,” Poston said.

The raids Friday were the culmination of a multi-agency investigation that was ongoing for a number of months. Using undercover agents, the county attorney’s office gathered information for warrants on the three game rooms. According to Poston, the game rooms were paying out cash that exceeded the amount allowed by state law.

Two of the three illegal game rooms were in Tarkington — one in an old restaurant space behind the Chevron gas station at the intersection of SH 321 and SH 105 and one in a brick building just south of that location in a building once used as a body shop. The third game room is located south of the AM & PM Shell station on US 59 at Morgan Cemetery Road in Cleveland.

Poston estimates there are at least a dozen game rooms in operation in Liberty County.

“A number of these have a close affiliation to the Aryan Brotherhood,” Poston said.

When asked if a white supremacy prison gang like the Aryan Brotherhood would affiliate with a Mexican drug cartel, Poston said, “Yes, surprisingly. The Aryan Brotherhood is not so much about white supremacy as it is organized crime.”

One of the game rooms raided on Friday is owned by a non-U.S. citizen, though Poston could not be more forthcoming since criminal charges are still expected to be filed against all the game room owners.

During the raids, which were conducted simultaneously at all three locations, police emptied the cash from all the machines and removed the motherboards, rendering the machines inoperable. In years past, law enforcement agencies seized the actual gambling machines, which proved to be problematic as they then had to store them.

“Game machines are no longer confiscated. We just pull the motherboards,” Poston said. “We just offloaded 48 full game machines that have been sitting at Smith Towing in Cleveland for like four years.”

Poston is hopeful that HB 389, filed by State Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd), and HB 392, of which Bailes is a joint-author with Rep. John Kuempel (R-Seguin), will give law enforcement the tools it needs to regulate illegal game rooms in Texas. HB 389 will provide resources to law enforcement officers while HB 892 will regulate game rooms in the entire state.

“There is good indication that these bills will pass. It is legislation that will allow us access to regulate the game rooms,” Poston said. “It wouldn’t help so much with our investigations but would help with more common things like safety code and fire code violations. This will require them to open the door when the county’s code enforcement officer comes knocking.”

Poston said he and his office receives complaints regularly for illegal game room activity.

“The goal of all of this is to reduce as much as we can the number of these game rooms in Liberty County,” Poston said.

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