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Feds Hit Jackpot After Undercovering Illegal Gambling Operation

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Federal prosecutors say they hit the jackpot in an undercover investigation into illegal gambling.

In addition to confiscating video poker machines from across North Carolina, state and federal agents followed the illegal money trail. In documents unsealed Wednesday, David "Ricky" Godwin and his son Ricky Jr. of Johnston County are the latest to plead guilty to illegal gambling.

In addition to prison time and $5 million in forfeited cash, both men agreed to help investigators chase more illegal activity. The FBI confirmed it is a public corruption investigation. Former DOT Secretary Garland Garrett has already pleaded guilty in the case.

"Those aiding, abetting or conspiring to assist ongoing illegal video poker are as culpable as those actually operating an illegal enterprise," U.S. Attorney Frank Whitney said.

Bob Hall's watchdog group Democracy North Carolina tracked the Godwin family's political contributions as well as others in the video poker industry.

"This man has used illegal money to make political donations to buy protection," Hall said.

Gov. Mike Easley's 2000 campaign received thousands from machine owners as did State Rep. Leo Daughtry, who serves as legal counsel to the gaming industry. Attorney General Roy Cooper also accepted contributions. Despite those earlier donations, Easley joined law enforcement to support a ban on video poker this year.

Hall does not allege any political criminal activity. He also sees no coincidence that House Speaker Jim Black accepted thousands from the industry while the bill to ban the machines never made it to the floor for a vote.

"The politicians are delivering protection to this industry and they may think they are helping mom and pop in a convenience store, but they are really helping organized crime," Hall said.

Whitney notes that politicians are only liable if they knowingly accept campaign contributions that come from illegal activity. No politicians were publicly implicated at Wednesday's press conference.


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