Florida Police Bust Four Illicit Lottery Operations, Arrest Five Suspects

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Earlier this month, the tranquil routine of Port St. Lucie, Florida was disrupted when law enforcement officers orchestrated a collaborative effort to raid and shut down four illicit gaming operations concealed within legitimate businesses across the city. The operation led to the arrest of five individuals implicated in running illegal lotteries, known as bolita games.

“Bolita”, which translates to “little ball” in Spanish, is a form of lottery that has historically experienced popularity in both Cuba and Florida. In this particular incarnation, the winning numbers mirrored the New York State Lottery numbers, a calculated caveat designed to throw authorities off the scent, and ensure the requisite air of legitimacy. However, these operations had no connection whatsoever to the official government-run lottery, local police emphasized.

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The five suspects involved in the scheme, Bryant Francisco, Chimy Ismero, Josiane LaPointe, Big John Petion, and Revelyn Tejeda-Serrata, were identified by police and consequently arrested on May 10, each charged with lottery violation. After posting bond, the suspects were released from custody, their cases turned over for further scrutiny by local prosecutors.

This string of arrests is the result of a two-month-long inquiry into the world of illegal gambling in Port St. Lucie. Prompted by an anonymous tip, local police set a unique operation in motion, borrowing an unfamiliar face from the West Palm Beach police department to go undercover. This detective was able to infiltrate each of the four gambling paradises, blending into the murky world of numbers games and lottery scams.

Per PSLPD Chief Richard Del Toro’s explanation to media outlets, the process was a blend of sophistication and simplicity. “People would pick numbers, they would number these balls, put them in a plastic bag and just pull them out, like you’d see normally done with the lotto machine on TV. It’s kind of a game of chance.”

After the suspect was charged, evidence was reviewed by a judge who approved a series of search warrants. Local police officers, a SWAT team, the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, and other officials then descended on the businesses, raiding each one concurrently.

The businesses interrogated were: Cale Marketplace, Malaika Caribbean Restaurant, Frienz Mini Mart, and Balla Unisex Salon, each cited for illegal gambling, unpermitted use of property, and business tax receipt violations. If convicted, these businesses could each face fines of up to $15,000.

While the four operations appeared to be independent of each other, police managed to seize approximately $10,000 in cash during the raids. Chief Del Toro has since hinted that this investigation is far from over, citing the odds that more such businesses are likely operating illegal gambling rings throughout the city.

Del Toro concluded with a stern warning to other businesses engaged in similar activities, reminding them of the law, and hinting at further investigations. “It’s unregulated, it’s illegal. The payout amount is not guaranteed, and sometimes is being withheld by the store owners,” he stated, alarming the community to the pervasive act of illegality concealed behind innocent business fronts.