JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents arrested five men in an illegal gambling raid in Jacksonville, the News4Jax I-TEAM has learned.
Junior Ramon Jimenez, Daniel Jimenez, Eddie Lugo, Henry Placencia and Arismendy Uceta all face third-degree felony charges of illegal gambling following the undercover sting operation by FDLE agents.
The five men are suspected of running or taking part in in the gambling operation.
Undercover agents targeted four locations: An apartment, two clothing stores in strip malls and a restaurant. According to agents, the businesses raided were fronts for illegal organized gambling.
After gathering enough evidence, agents raided the four locations -- including the restaurant, which is being remodeled, and a clothing store, which is now closed.
The other clothing store, located on Powers Avenue, reopened after the owner bonded out of jail.
The owner, who agreed to speak to the I-TEAM as long as he was not identified, admitted gambling took place in his store, but said he did not think it was illegal.
"It was like a pool thing," the store owner said. "We all got together and we chipped in and that's how it worked out."
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith weighed in.
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse," Smith said. "If they are running an illegal operation, then they’re still going to be prosecuted for that.”
The owner of the store said agents seized $20,000 to $30,000 in cash, including his cash register.
Two weeks before the Super Bowl, an undercover agent said he placed a sports bet at the store. But no arrests were made until this week.
When the I-TEAM asked whether another gambler could have alerted police, the store owner said, "That's pretty much the source."
“Someone may have not been able to get their money," Smith said. "So, sometimes, they will tip off law enforcement (to) what’s going on.”
According to agents, a restaurant on Dunn Avenue was also a front for illegal gambling. A manager at a neighboring store told the I-TEAM that the spot was just rented three weeks ago and hasn't even opened for business yet.
Hours later, the restaurant owner confirmed that information. With his attorney present, he admitted gambling took place inside the building. He said agents confiscated tens of thousands of dollars during the raid.
Smith explained why reputable businesses and mom-and-pop stores make the perfect cover.
“These business like this usually operate in a place that’s inconspicuous, (where) you wouldn't suspect any type of gambling operation going on. That way it doesn't alert the attention of law enforcement," Smith said. "So they could appear to be a legitimate business and, in some cases, they are. But they’re also doing illegal activity on the premises.”
Smith also said it was no coincidence that all the locations were raided around the same time. He said agents likely discovered they were all somehow linked together before they moved in to make arrests.
“They’ll go in and see if they can place bets and not shut the operation down, then go to the other operations," Smith said. "Once they understand they’re placing bets, especially if they understand they are all connected, they’ll wait and go in all at one time and shut them all down at once.”
According to Smith, gambling operations under disguise usually operate with only one or two people -- the bookmaker and the person who pays off the debts.
"The lower number of people, the better it is for them to avoid the eye of law enforcement," he said.
Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.