By Dan Trudeau
Search warrants were issued for five residential and commercial locations in Queens that were implicated in an illegal citywide gambling ring which took in more than $30 million a year, police said.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced last Thursday that officers had made 35 arrests at the dramatic conclusion of a year-long investigation known as “Operation Losing Bet.” The investigation uncovered 30 sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx where illegal gambling was taking place.
Kelly said the criminals were operating out of storefronts that appeared to be legitimate businesses in order to disguise their activity from police officers and neighbors.
“These criminals had established footholds all across the city and were using neighborhood shops as fronts for their illegal gambling enterprise,” Kelly said in a statement. “Now, thanks to the effort of this multi-agency investigation, we’ve rooted out this widespread organization and brought its perpetrators to justice.”
The five Queens locations that police searched as part of the investigation were 35-21 86th St. in East Elmhurst, 97-10 69th Ave. in Forest Hills, 197-17 McLaughlin Ave. in Holliswood, 95-09 Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica and 70-16 30th Ave. in Jackson Heights.
The Forest Hills search took place in a single-family home in a quiet residential neighborhood. Neighbors said they had no indication that any kind of wrong-doing had taken place in the home, and neighbor Thomas Weber said that the residents were a quiet family with a son and had just recently moved in.
“There were never a lot of people coming or going or anything like that,” another neighbor said.
Detectives have named Luis Perez, of Manalpan, N.J., as the head of the organization and have arrested several of its alleged high-ranking members, including Hector Maldonado and his wife, Naomi, of Elizabeth, N.J. Both have been charged with promoting gambling and possession of gambling equipment. The police are not releasing the names of the other individuals who have been arrested.
The investigation began in June 2002 after New York police learned of several illegal gambling locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Through surveillance techniques and undercover officers, detectives learned of illegal number games taking place in video stores, clothing shops, delis and other fake businesses across the city.
Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes appeared with Kelly as the arrests were announced and said the investigation was a significant breakthrough, as illegal gambling was adding to the city’s financial woes.
“Not only does it lead to other criminal activity, but these illegal gambling operations divert money from the tax-paying economy,” Hynes said. “The lost revenue, which could have been spent legitimately in the city, helping our economy, instead goes to these underground operations.”
Reach reporter Dan Trudeau by e-mail at email@example.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.