CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A Cuyahoga County judge has delayed the racketeering trial of a company that supplies computer software for Internet cafes, saying she wants to give full attention to a case that could set a nationwide precedent.
New Jersey-based VS2 Worldwide Communications and owners Richard Upchurch and Phillip Cornick were to go on trial July 8 on charges that also include money laundering and gambling, but Common Pleas Judge Deena Calabrese said Friday that she needs time to hear and rule on stack of defense motions filed this week. Attorneys agreed to begin the trial Oct. 15.
Defense lawyers want Calabrese to throw out material seized in April from VS2's New Jersey headquarters, Cornick's home in Ocean County, N.J., and three Cuyahoga County cafes.
They also asked her to bar evidence of the company owners' wealth and lifestyles and Upchurch's past gambling offenses, references to co-defendants' guilty pleas, customer testimony and mention of political contributions and lobbying aimed at legislators considering the cafe industry's fate.
Washington, D.C., defense attorney Mark Schamel strenuously objected to the delay and said Calabrese could choose a simple solution: rule immediately. He complained that county Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty was filing new indictments "faster than we can make more paper for indictments."
Calabrese ended the polite but terse exchange by declaring she would not be "pushed to the brink" on a case that could result in a "national first impression," or precedent.
"I want to keep my eyes on the prize, Mr. Schamel, which is to ensure that your clients' rights are protected," she said. "It's a complex litigation."
Neither Schamel nor McGinty is allowed to talk publicly about the case. Calabrese imposed a gag order two weeks ago at the defense's request, after a series of remarks by the outspoken McGinty.
Cafe owners say they run legitimate businesses that sell Internet or phone time and offer slotslike computer games as a marketing tool. McGinty and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine have condemned the businesses as cover for illegal gambling.
The state was once home to as many as 800 cafes, with a heavy concentration in Northeast Ohio, but the number has dwindled. Legislation signed by Gov. John Kasich will effectively put the industry out of business, but cafe owners have launched a bid to place the issue on the ballot.
Columbus gaming attorney Christy Prince said she was not certain that a case being argued in state court would have impact beyond Ohio's borders. But she added: "I certainly think a lot of people are watching the case up there for Ohio purposes."
I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School in California and author of "Gambling and the Law," said he saw only a slim chance that the VS2 case could be cited outside Ohio. But he said authorities elsewhere could be emboldened by successful prosecution in a state where Internet cafes have been active on an unusually large scale.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The owners of a company that supplies software to Internet cafes want a Cuyahoga County judge to bar evidence of their wealth and lifestyles from an upcoming trial on charges of racketeering, money laundering and gambling.
Lawyers for New Jersey-based VS2 Worldwide Communications and owners Phillip Cornick and Richard Upchurch filed a stack of motions this week that also seek to prohibit mention of Upchurch's past gambling convictions and those of four other men who have pleaded guilty or await trial separately in the VS2 case.
Cornick and Upchurch also have asked Common Pleas Judge Deena Calabrese to exclude references to political contributions and lobbying of legislators as they weighed a measure that will stifle cafes, as well as testimony from 30 customers who will say they visited the cafes primarily to wager on slotslike computer games.
Neither side would discuss the latest turns in the high-profile case. Calabrese approved the defense's request for silence earlier this month after a series of blistering public attacks by Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty.
"There's a gag order," said Joe Frolik, spokesman for McGinty's office. "We can't comment on this matter."
Cafe owners say they sell Internet or telephone time and offer the games in their storefronts for marketing purposes. Attorney General Mike DeWine and other critics say the businesses are a facade for illegal gambling.
State legislation that takes effect Sept. 4 will essentially kill the industry by prohibiting cash jackpots and capping the value of prizes at $10, but cafe owners are collecting signatures to place the issue on the ballot.
Though the businesses, which once numbered as many as 800 statewide, are disappearing, McGinty has vowed to shut down those that remain within his reach. DeWine has offered to assist other county prosecutors who want go after the cafes.
Cornick, 51, of Jackson, N.J., and Upchurch, 60, of Ramseur, N.C., and their company are the lead defendants in a trial set for July 8. The Ohio Department of Public Safety headed an investigation that began more than a year ago and also involves the Secret Service, Postal Service and Parma Heights police.
Defense lawyers Mark Schamel and Cathy Hinger of Washington, D.C., and Don Malarcik of Akron have asked Calabrese to bar the prosecutors from telling a jury about the men's real estate, luxury items or expensive vehicles, saying that would appeal to "class prejudice."
Records show that Cornick owns a $785,000 home in Ocean County, N.J., while Upchurch has a 107-year-old house and 66 acres south of Greensboro, N.C. The motion says prosecutors have more than 190 photographs of Cornick's home and vehicles.
Upchurch was found guilty on gambling charges in 1994 and 2000, before he and Cornick formed VS2, his lawyers say in a motion to block that evidence. North Carolina records show he was placed on probation in 2000 for the manufacture, sale, possession or operation of slot machines but make no mention of a 1994 case.
The defense lawyers want to bar material seized in April from VS2 headquarters in New Jersey, another New Jersey company and Cornick's home.
Among the items are emails that show VS2 recruited Ohio cafe owners to make political contributions to the state Senate Republican campaign committee and House members and senators from both parties. McGinty provided the documents to The Plain Dealer for a story the lawyers say was sensationalized and used to bully a reluctant Senate into passing the House's cafe legislation.
"The State plainly seeks to confuse the issues and mislead the jury into thinking the Defendants did something untoward by bringing members of the Internet cafe industry together, organizing campaign fund donations, or working with lobbyists," a motion reads. "There is nothing salacious or illegal about these activities."
The defense also asked Calabrese to exclude references to an Ohio appellate court's March decision to uphold the gambling convictions of two cafe owners in an unrelated case, saying the strongly worded opinion is "inadmissible hearsay."
They also have asked her to bar expert testimony from FBI records examiner Deneen Hernandez, arguing that Hernandez is not qualified to analyze game software and say whether its operation constitutes gambling.
Lawyer David Stewart, who represents the American Gaming Association, said Cuyahoga County's Internet-cafe case is one of the nation's largest and appears to trail only a continuing Florida charity scandal that federal prosecutors say netted $290 million for for-profit companies and the Allied Veterans of the World.
Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll was not charged but resigned in March because her public-relations company had ties to the veterans group.
Stewart wrote a 2012 report that accused Internet or sweepstakes cafes of flouting states' laws and siphoning money from state-sanctioned casinos and lotteries. The cafes have popped up in 12 to 20 states in the last decade and been banned in eight to 10, he said in an interview.
Plain Dealer news researcher JoEllen Corrigan contributed to this report.
MONROE — Two Sylvania men accused of running an illegal Internet sweepstakes café in Bedford Township are due in court this week, authorities said.
Jerrold Jaffe, 66, and his nephew, Jacob Jaffe, 30, are scheduled for a pretrial hearing Wednesday in Monroe District Court, with a preliminary examination set for Thursday, according to the court’s clerk’s office. They were each arraigned June 14 on a charge of conducting gambling operations without a license, and released after posting a $10,000 personal recognizance bond.
The felony charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, according to the criminal complaints, which were filed against the suspects Sept. 27. The complaints state that the suspects conducted an illegal gambling operation at Lucky 7 Internet Cafe, 8525 Secor Rd.
Joy Yearout, a spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office, said the Jaffes are the first alleged Internet sweepstakes café operators in Michigan to be criminally charged. The charges are part of a statewide sweep that closed 59 cafés across the state since it began a year ago, she said.
“Citizens should steer clear of Internet sweepstakes cafés that are nothing more than unregistered, illegal casinos,” Mr. Schuette said in a statement.
The Jaffes’ attorney Tim Churchill of Temperance said his clients “have never received the cease and desist order, which would be a more normal course in some other cases when they [the Attorney General's office] were threatening to go after some other operators of Internet cafes in Wayne and Ingham counties.”
“Basically, they were a legal business entity, they were paying their taxes and operating within what they thought were within the confines of the law for Internet cafés, as it is in Ohio where such businesses were grandfathered in and allowed to operate without fear of criminal prosecution,” Mr. Churchill said.
The older Mr. Jaffe owned the business and his nephew was his employee, Mr. Churchill said.
“I didn’t just go there and open it up. I checked with everybody from lawyers to township commissioners and trustees,” Jerrold Jaffe said.
“Over the two years of operations, I never had a notice from any official office that I was breaking the law,” Mr. Jaffe said. “They never gave me a chance or I would have shut it down immediately.”
Internet sweepstakes cafés are businesses that sell Internet access and the chance to play computer-based casino-style games where customers can win cash prizes.
In Ohio, a bill recently signed by Gov. John Kasich is designed to remove the profit motive from “sweepstakes” machines that critics argue look and act too much like slot machines. The law would prohibit cash payouts for the machines and limit non-cash prize values to no more than $10.
Café owners argue that the machines are not gambling but rather promotional tools to sell long-distance phone cards and Internet time, and have filed a petition to try to put a referendum on the November, 2014, election ballot.
Café operators and their patrons say they support regulation of the industry rather than what amounts to a ban on its existence.
A statewide moratorium on new Internet cafés in Ohio is set to expire in June.
Contact Mike Sigov at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6089, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.
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Tampa, Florida - Governor Rick Scott says he will sign the bill banning all new internet sweepstakes cafes. CafÃ© owners and their customers say they've been dealt a losing hand.
While state officials say internet sweepstakes cafÃ©s are a "gateway to organized crime and racketeering", businesses like Bit Bar say most are legitimate small businesses that provide jobs and entertainment.
Jimmy Harding works downtown and likes playing the odds a few times a week.
"Get off work, come here have a beer, try to win some money - if not, go on the internet," says Jimmy.
Governor Rick Scott says he will sign a bill outlawing internet cafes. Jimmy says, "It's not fair why anyone should suffer if one person messed up."
State and federal law enforcement officials say Allied Veterans of the World CafÃ© ran a 290 million dollar illegal gambling business and as a result, nearly 60 people have been arrested.
"Can't judge all businesses the same," says Ambrel Dunsdan, co-owner of Bit Bar. The business opened a year ago in downtown Tampa.
Ambrel says, "It's just entertainment, all legitimate, we provide people a nice place to play some games, have beer and wine, enjoy sports on the big screen."
Bit Bar owners say they've invested more than 10-thousand dollars on 10 computer stations for internet and simulated slot machine games. A ban on internet cafes would be a loss for them. Ambrel says, "It's going to hurt us. Half of our bar would be gone, we have to figure out different concepts .. even figure out a different name. Bit Bar is with computers."
Once the bill is signed, the ban would take effect July 1st. Internet sweepstakes cafes already in operation can stay open, but the law does give local municipalities the right to regulate and even ban them. The City of Tampa recently voted to ban future cafes, grandfathering 13 existing cafes, but city commissioners added tough restrictions. The governor's office has not said when he will be signing the bill.
Article source: http://www.wtsp.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=309382
The warning signs of a gambling problem include: spending a great deal of time gambling, gambling to escape, increasing bets to win back losses or break even, hiding losses, and repeatedly and unsuccessfully trying to kick the habit.
The Whitehall woman had been visiting her neighborhood Internet-sweepstakes cafe weekly for two years when it hit her.
“I got my income tax, and I saw how much I made in 2012,” she said. “I looked at my life and saw how much I was working, and I didn’t have nothing. I knew that I needed help.”
The woman, who is 56 and a working mother, is undergoing treatment for gambling addiction at Maryhaven, a Columbus-based facility. She asked that her name not be used for this story.
She figures she lost $200 to $300 every Friday and Saturday at Internet cafes, playing machines resembling electronic slots, poker and other casino games.
“I don’t like the casinos and racinos,” she said. “The Internet cafes are close, and they are convenient. It’s never too crowded, and there’s one right in every community.
“It just appears the way the machines are set up, it’s getting ready to hit. That’s what keeps you playing. But it’s a rip-off.”
She is one of a growing number of problem gamblers in Ohio who respond to the lure of storefront Internet cafes, which advocates argue are not really gambling at all but sweepstakes games with a predetermined outcome, like Monopoly cards at McDonald’s.
At Maryhaven, since gambling was added to the treatment mix three years ago, more than 350 patients have received outpatient treatment for gambling addiction; the game of choice for 65 percent was Internet-cafe games, said Paul H. Coleman, president and chief executive officer.
He said the agency began with a modest $25,000 grant from the Columbus Foundation and plans to expand to a new location with $278,000 from tax proceeds generated by Ohio’s four casinos.
The average Internet-cafe addict is a middle-age woman who becomes hooked on fast-moving, rapid-turnaround games such as electronic slots and poker.
Few people become addicted to the weekly lottery, Coleman said, although some become compulsive consumers of scratch-off lottery tickets.
Why Internet cafes?
“Convenience is a big factor. They are ubiquitous,” Coleman said. “You don’t have to drive across town or out of town to a casino.”
A law that could effectively shut down Ohio’s 600 Internet sweepstakes operations by limiting maximum payouts to $10 was signed by Gov. John Kasich this month. However, cafe operators and software providers immediately said they will mount a campaign to overturn the law on the November 2014 ballot.
Meanwhile, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the bible for medical and treatment professionals — includes for the first time addiction to gambling in the same category as addiction to drugs and alcohol.
“You’re not responsible for having a behavioral illness,” Coleman said. “You’re responsible for what you do about it.”
About 1 percent of Americans and Ohioans are problem gamblers, but the incidence ramps up to as high as 30 percent if the person has another addiction, such as alcohol or drugs, Coleman said.
The warning signs of a gambling problem include: spending a great deal of time gambling, gambling to escape, increasing bets to win back losses or break even, hiding losses, and repeatedly and unsuccessfully trying to kick the habit.
The Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services is preparing to deal with gambling problems, including issues with both Internet cafes and people gambling at home via the Internet, a growing trend recently legalized in Maryland, Nevada and New Jersey.
Gambling via cellphones and tablet computers might be the new frontier, said Scott Anderson, the state agency’s problem-gambling coordinator. Casinos are seeking permission to send out a Wi-Fi signal within the facility “so you can play on your smartphone, gamble while you’re eating or in the restroom.”
Anderson said the agency has trained more than 500 clinicians and others to help problem gamblers in response to the opening in Ohio of four casinos and eventually seven racinos, in addition to Internet cafes, Keno and the Ohio Lottery.
For help with gambling addiction:
Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline, 1-800-589-9966
National Council on Problem Gambling, www.ncpgambling.org
LONDON — The Guardian newspaper says the British eavesdropping agency GCHQ repeatedly hacked into foreign diplomats' phones and emails when the U.K. hosted international conferences, even going so far as to set up a bugged Internet café in an effort to get an edge in high-stakes negotiations.
The report — the latest in a series of revelations which have ignited a worldwide debate over the scope of Western intelligence gathering — came just hours before Britain was due to open the G-8 summit Monday, a meeting of world's leading economies that include Russia, in Northern Ireland. The allegation that the United Kingdom has previously used its position as host to spy on its allies and other attendees could make for awkward conversation as the delegates arrive for talks.
"The diplomatic fallout from this could be considerable," said British academic Richard J. Aldrich, whose book "GCHQ" charts the agency's history.
Speaking at the G-8 summit, Prime Minister David Cameron declined to address the issue.
"We never comment on security or intelligence issues and I am not about to start now," he said. "I don't make comments on security or intelligence issues. That would be breaking something that no government has previously done."
GCHQ also declined to comment on the report.
The Guardian cites more than half a dozen internal government documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as the basis for its reporting on GCHQ's intelligence operations, which it says involved, among other things, hacking into the South African foreign ministry's computer network and targeting the Turkish delegation at the 2009 G-20 summit in London.
The source material — whose authenticity could not immediately be determined — appears to be a mixed bag. The Guardian describes one as "a PowerPoint slide," another as "a briefing paper" and others simply as "documents."
Some of the leaked material was posted to the Guardian's website with heavy redactions. A spokesman for the newspaper said that the redactions were made at the newspaper's initiative, but declined to elaborate.
It wasn't completely clear how Snowden would have had access to the British intelligence documents, although in one article the Guardian mentions that source material was drawn from a top-secret internal network shared by GCHQ and the NSA. Aldrich said he wouldn't be surprised if the GCHQ material came from a shared network accessed by Snowden, explaining that the NSA and GCHQ collaborated so closely that in some areas the two agencies effectively operated as one.
One document cited by the Guardian — but not posted to its website — appeared to boast of GCHQ's tapping into smartphones. The Guardian quoted the document as saying that "capabilities against BlackBerry provided advance copies of G20 briefings to ministers." It went on to say that "Diplomatic targets from all nations have an MO (a habit) of using smartphones," adding that spies "exploited this use at the G-20 meetings last year."
Another document cited — but also not posted — concerned GCHQ's use of a customized Internet cafe which was "able to extract key logging info, providing creds for delegates, meaning we have sustained intelligence options against them even after conference has finished." No further details were given, but the reference to key logging suggested that computers at the café would have been pre-installed with malicious software designed to spy on key strokes, steal passwords, and eavesdrop on emails.
Aldrich said that revelation stuck out as particularly ingenious.
"It's a bit 'Mission Impossible,'" he said.
BROOK PARK, Ohio - Prosecutors and Cuyahoga County Sheriff deputies raided the Cyber Oasis Internet Cafe in Brook Park and made an arrest Friday afternoon.
Cuyahoga County prosecutors said deputies arrested a man indicted on nine counts of money laundering, two counts of gambling and two counts of operating a gambling house.
According to the indictment, the crimes took place May to June 2013 at Cyber Oasis Internet Cafe, located at 5859 Smith Road in Brook Park.
Izdihar "Ester" Najjar was arrested Friday afternoon at the Oasis Cafe by Cuyahoga County Sheriff deputies. He is currently being held in the Cuyahoga County Jail.
Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Lawyers for the Internet cafe industry accused the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office of violating ethical and professional rules of conduct in pursuit of criminal gambling charges.
The lawyers, representing a New Jersey supplier of software to cafes, specifically contend in a court filing that Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty orchestrated an illegal seizure of documents and improperly proclaimed their clients to be guilty of crimes.
"Unfortunately, the Office's pattern of misconduct has crescendoed to a point that is intolerable," the lawyers wrote in a motion asking Judge Deena Calabrese to disqualify McGinty as the prosecutor on their clients' criminal cases.
McGinty's office denies any wrongdoing, and attributes the accusations from industry lawyers to anger at the prosecutor making public seized documents detailing a plan by cafe owners to target key Ohio politicians with campaign contributions.
"This investigation is playing out day-by-day, minute-by-minute across Ohio," prosecutors state in their own court filing. "Forcibly removing the entire Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office would necessitate the appointment of a special prosecutor who would need months to get up to speed on the facts alone."
In April, McGinty's office obtained search warrants and raided the New Jersey headquarters of software supplier VS2 Worldwide Communications and the home of VS2 President Phillip Cornick.
On the same day, police raided Internet cafes in Cuyahoga County, seizing video terminals and cash.
A Cuyahoga County grand jury later charged VS2 and related firms and individuals with multiple gambling-related crimes. Two local Internet caf operators subsequently pleaded guilty to misdemeanor gambling charges and have agreed to testify against VS2 and others.
VS2 lawyers contend in their court filing that McGinty's office "defrauded" a New Jersey court into issuing the search warrants by using an affidavit that claimed officials there were investigating breaches of New Jersey law.
They go on to contend that many of the documents seized in the process are privileged correspondence between the defendants and their attorneys. And they claim that McGinty's public pronouncements have violated their clients' rights to fair trials.
McGinty has publicly stated that the cafes operate as illegal gambling parlors and has vowed to shut them down.
A bill that recently passed the Ohio Legislature and was signed by Gov. John Kasich has effectively put the cafes out of business. Prosecutors also say an independent process for the review of seized documents is in place to determine if the records are privileged.
Promoters of the industry want a referendum that would allow voters to overturn the law. Cafe owners contend they are legitimate businesses that sell Internet and phone services, then offer customers the chance to play slotslike computer games.
A man dressed as a woman robbed an internet café in Warren at gunpoint with the help of a masked man wielding an assault rifle at the same two men were robbing an internet cafe in Youngstown.
Police have not said if they believe the robberies were related in any way.
Reports said the men stole at least $3,500 from the Lots of Loot internet café at 2004 North Road S.E. in Warren and several customers inside the building.
A café employee told police the man dressed as a woman came into the café at about 11 p.m. Monday and talked with him about the business.
The man reached into his purse and pointed a gun at the employee, demanding that he open the cash register and unlock the businesses’ back door.
The employee opened the door, where a man dressed in all black and wearing a bandana over his face. Reports said the man had small assault rifle in his hands that looked like an AK-47.
The gunman ordered the employee to get the “extra money” the business kept in another room. The employee told the man that money was picked up earlier by the café’s owner, reports said.
The man dressed as a woman then stole from the seven customers inside at the time. Reports said cell phones and purses were stolen.
The man dressed as a woman then put his gun to the head of one of the customers and ordered him to the floor.
The two men fled before police arrived, reports said.
At about the same time in Youngstown, two people robbed the Internet Palace at gunpoint. Police are viewing surveillance video, reports said.
Reports said at about 11 p.m. Monday two men entered the café at E. Midlothian Boulevard and Shady Run Road pointed a gun at an employee and demanded money.
A second man, who was wearing “something black over his face,” ran into the cashier booth and stole money from the register, reports said.
While fleeing, one of the men told a customer “get on the ground,” reports said.
Article source: http://www.wkbn.com/2013/06/11/internet-cafe-robbed-at-gunpoint/