Charges dismissed against 9 arrested in Houston poker room raids; cases referred to FBI

By Cory McCord - Digital News Editor, Sophia Beausoleil - Reporter

HOUSTON - Harris County prosecutors have dismissed charges related to two poker room raids in the Houston area.

What happened

Nine owners and operators were arrested at two clubs in early May, each charged with money laundering.

Both Post Oak Poker Club and Prime Social Poker Club were labeled "public nuisances" by Harris County because of excessive calls for service at the locations.

Cases dismissed

The money laundering charges were dismissed and the cases were referred to the FBI.

Citing potential conflicts of interest, prosecutors asked federal authorities to review material gathered during an investigation of the two Houston poker rooms.

“We are dedicated to transparency and fairness and we have turned over the organized crime and money laundering investigation of these poker clubs to federal investigators,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said. “We discovered this and we want to ensure than an outside agency independently reviews everything.”

Prosecutors are also filing paperwork in order to return more than $200,000 in gambling proceeds that were seized from the defendants.

Conflicts of interest

Among multiple potential conflicts of interest, the DA’s Office identified a potential defense witness who is a former contract employee and a political fundraiser.

As for potential conflicts linked to other people or entities, Ogg said she was not at liberty to discuss them.

Prime Social Poker Club statement

"We have said since the unfortunate raid in May that Prime Social had fully complied with the law from the first day we opened our popular private poker club on Westheimer.

"We had reason to believe we were operating with the full knowledge and approval of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. We had even worked with the Houston Police Department on well-publicized charity drives.

"Prime Social attorneys were already independently cooperating with the Harris County District Attorney and federal authorities long before today’s announcement and we stand ready to help as they investigate the conflicts of interest that have been identified in the news release issued by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office this afternoon.

"We thank District Attorney Kim Ogg for taking the appropriate action to clear our employees’ names without any further delay and allow us to get back to work entertaining Houstonians.

"We look forward to our 11,000 plus members coming back soon to enjoy their favorite game."

Prime Social spokesperson

On Tuesday afternoon, Wayne Dolcefino, a representative for Prime Social, said that while they’re glad the charges were dismissed, the damage was already done.

He said about 100 people lost their jobs and the defendants had to shell out thousands of dollars for defense attorneys.

“These guys weren’t hiding; this wasn’t some backroom poker deal," Dolcefino said. "These guys were operating a business, thousands of people were enjoying themselves, there was no crime associated with the place, this should have never happened. I guess one of the questions you always ask is how do they get their names back? How do they get their legal fees back?  How do all those people who lost their jobs get reimbursed for their lost wages?

He said they also want to know why other poker clubs across Houston were still operating.
 
Dolcefino said with the news that there was a conflict of interest in the case, he believes there will be more that will come to the surface.
 
“Now that it’s coming out that there were problems and this raid was stained, the rest I think will come out in the wash,” he said.
 
“There are some serious questions that have emerged out of this investigation and my clients at Prime Social have been cooperating from the very beginning," Dolcefino said. They just want to get back to work. They were operating from the very beginnings with the knowledge and the belief that they were fully complying with the law, in part because they were working with someone from the DA’s Office. I mean, put yourself in Prime Social’s position. The DA’s office is helping them work on an ordinance and why would they assume they were doing anything wrong?"

He continued that they plan on reopening and coming back even better.

“They were operating a business, they were entertaining people, they were doing it safely and they’re just ready to get back to playing poker,” Dolcefino said.

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