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Updated: GBI, LaGrange law enforcement raid local stores

Alleged illegal gambling sparks GBI raids

By Melanie Ruberti

mruberti@civitasmedia.com

An unidentified man looks through a glass door Wednesday at the Bay Food Mart on Hamilton Road as Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agents and LaGrange police conduct a search warrant at the store. The GBI executed search warrants there and at three other locations Wednesday with the assistance of LaGrange police.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2015/10/web1_GBIRaids014.jpgAn unidentified man looks through a glass door Wednesday at the Bay Food Mart on Hamilton Road as Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agents and LaGrange police conduct a search warrant at the store. The GBI executed search warrants there and at three other locations Wednesday with the assistance of LaGrange police.

Tyler Jones | Daily News

A Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent speaks with a LaGrange police officer Wednesday outside the Pal Express 1 gas station on South Greenwood Street. The GBI executed search warrants there and at three other locations Wednesday with the assistance of LaGrange police.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2015/10/web1_GBIRaids024.jpgA Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent speaks with a LaGrange police officer Wednesday outside the Pal Express 1 gas station on South Greenwood Street. The GBI executed search warrants there and at three other locations Wednesday with the assistance of LaGrange police.

Tyler Jones | Daily News

A LaGrange police officer unfurls crime scene tape at the Smile Mart on South Greenwood Street as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and LaGrange police execute search warrants there Wednesday. The GBI executed search warrants there and at three other locations Wednesday with the assistance of LaGrange police.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2015/10/web1_GBIRaids034.jpgA LaGrange police officer unfurls crime scene tape at the Smile Mart on South Greenwood Street as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and LaGrange police execute search warrants there Wednesday. The GBI executed search warrants there and at three other locations Wednesday with the assistance of LaGrange police.

Tyler Jones | Daily News

A GBI agent stands in the parking lot of Smile Mart at Ashton and South Greenwood Streets on Wednesday. The GBI executed search warrants there and at three other locations Wednesday with the assistance of LaGrange police.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2015/10/web1_WEB1029NEWraidsGBI2.jpgA GBI agent stands in the parking lot of Smile Mart at Ashton and South Greenwood Streets on Wednesday. The GBI executed search warrants there and at three other locations Wednesday with the assistance of LaGrange police.

Tyler Jones | Daily News

LaGRANGE — Four area convenience stores remained closed this morning after agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Commercial Gambling Unit served search warrants and confiscated monetary assets allegedly connected with illegal gambling.

The GBI said search warrants were served at 15 convenience stores and one residence in six counties across Georgia, a press release stated.

According to GBI officials, GBI agents, LaGrange police Special Investigation Unit officers, the Georgia Lottery Corporation and the Georgia Department of Revenue executed the search warrants in a synchronized move just after 9 a.m. Wednesday.

In LaGrange, law enforcement officers and state agents swarmed the Pal Express 1 and Smile Mart convenience stores at South Greenwood and Ashton streets, B&D Food Store at 801 D Whitesville St. and Bay Food Mart at 1312 Hamilton Road.

LaGrange officers quickly shut down the stores to customers and placed crime scene tape around each parking lot.

The GBI said while searching each business, agents collected evidence related to crimes of commercial gambling and seized monetary assets gained from the illegal use of gaming machines.

All of the locations are currently licensed to operate coin-operated amusement machines under the master license of Sudama Resorts Inc., stated GBI officials. A press release also stated Sudama Resorts Inc. was the master license holder for all of the stores where illegal gambling and search warrants were executed.

During the course of the investigation, agents said they discovered customers were receiving cash payouts for winning credits. In Georgia, credits may only be redeemed for lottery tickets or store merchandise.

Sgt. Mark Cavender, head of the LaGrange police SIU team, said Wednesday’s raid was similar to the one his unit executed in three other city convenience stores on April 17.

“This one (Wednesday) was done on a larger scale — it was statewide and the GBI also involved the Department of Revenue,” he explained. “But we served our warrants for the same purpose as the GBI, and we also involved the state Lottery Commission.”

The state agents were with LaGrange officers as they served search warrants in April to the owners of the Lotto and Smoke Shop at 300 Mooty Bridge Road, Shell station at 828 N. Greenwood St. and the Chevron station at 315 New Franklin Road.

Cavender said SIU launched that investigation in February after receiving a complaint about illegal gambling practices. He sent undercover officers inside all three establishments to play the electronic gambling machines. According to the sergeant, when the officers won a game they were rewarded with cash.

Cavender stated the owners of those three stores faced criminal and civil charges in that sting, and so will the owners of the four stores who were raided on Wednesday.

He also said a store clerk, identified in a police report as Shuilesh Sonny Chaudhari, 35, was arrested at the Bay Food Mart during the GBI’s investigation on an unrelated charge. Agents discovered the man had a felony warrant out for his arrest in Crisp County for allegedly serving alcohol to minors.

The GBI said more arrests are pending.

Cavender said the four stores raided Wednesday will remain closed.

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.