NC illegal gambling investigation could top $20 million
Posted December 11, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — What started out as a raid at a Johnston County business with known ties to video poker has now turned into a multi-county investigation into illegal gambling in North Carolina that could top $20 million.
Nearly 200 store and restaurant owners from more than 40 towns, including Raleigh, Rocky Mount and Roanoke Rapids, have been caught in the middle of the federal investigation and had their businesses raided by agents in the past several months.
The raids began May 7, when agents raided Godwin Music Company near Selma in Johnston County. They also raided homes tied to Ricky Godwin, the company's owner, who is no stranger to federal investigations.
More than a decade ago, Godwin and his son Ricky Godwin Jr. were convicted in an illegal gambling ring. The son received probation, and the father went to prison. He was released three years ago.
A federal court transcript shows agents believe the Godwins were quickly back in business and possibly linked to a $20-million gambling ring across Eastern North Carolina.
In mid-October, several federal seizure warrants were issued for cash taken from business owners. Over the next month and a half, more and more money was seized from nearly 200 locations across the state.
"To me, they just legally robbed me," said Richard Oakley, owner of The Train Station, a bar and restaurant in Cary. "Eight guys walking around with guns and badges, smashing – literally – a machine open in the middle of my dining room. It was insanity."
Alcohol Law Enforcement agents seized three gaming machines. Oakley contends the games fit a loophole in the state's sweepstakes law, and he quickly replaced them with more. Oakley also says the ALE agents took about $7,000.
"It crushed me that day. I didn't even have change to give a customer," he said.
State agents produced paperwork suggesting Oakley's gaming machines came from the Godwin-owned Raleigh Amusements. Oakley concedes his video games are from Raleigh Amusements, but not the confiscated gaming machines.
"That has absolutely nothing to do with me, and I proved that had nothing to do with me," Oakley said. "My machines are owned by somebody else."
In a statement to WRAL Investigates on Thursday, N.C. Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Pam Walker said: "As much as ALE and DPS would like to comment, this is the U.S. Attorney's Office case. We are unable to provide anything at this time."
In prior stories, a U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman defended the agents' actions but declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation.”
Federal records show The Train Station was one of at least 190 businesses raided in the Godwin investigation. In some cases, agents took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, like they did from Big Boy's Truck Stop and Travel Center in Kenly.
"They took over. They took the money, all the paper money in the office," said owner Walter Powell Jr.
In other cases, they seized as little as $5 from the Premier Restaurant in Smithfield. The warrants show money was even taken from the tip jar in Skully's Tavern in Goldsboro and from a bag found in the purse of the owner of the Country Mart in Benson.
As for Oakley, he said he's stunned by the sheer scope of the Godwin investigation and says the raids missed the mark.
"I just can't believe they can use one person's problem to confiscate so many millions and millions of dollars from hard-working businesses," he said. "They just fall under the, 'Well, it may have something to do with the gaming machines.'"
In each case involving the businesses, the owner and RGB, the Godwins' company, are listed as entities who may stake a claim to the money. But data in the federal civil forfeiture cases shows the chances of getting all of the money back are slim to none.
As for a potential criminal case against the Godwins, no charges have been filed and an initial search warrant for their properties was still under seal.