Federal officials announced charges against 15 defendants who authorities say were involved in illegal gambling operations on the island, some run in residential homes on Oahu.
The investigation into illicit gambling was a partnership of federal and local law enforcement agencies.
Two Oahu residential homes were targeted in federal indictments but U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii Kenji Price said about 80 properties may be involved in gambling activity. His office has filed a civil complaint of forfeiture against the two homes.
Officials said six different defendants operated gambling businesses out of a Waipahu home at 94-103 Pupupuhi St. and six at a Pearl City home at 1577 Hoolehua St. between October 2018 and August 2019.
In total, 15 people were charged, with seven are still at large.
Prices said illegal gambling is expanding beyond the commercial areas into residential communities.
“Individuals trying to line their pockets by operating game rooms don’t limit their criminal conduct to commercial areas,” he told reporters. “Instead they’ve spread their tentacles into residential areas.”
Price and representatives from other law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation, including Department of Homeland Security, emphasized that gambling houses are breeding grounds for other kinds of illegal activity.
“When it comes to the gambling houses, some people say, ‘Hey, it’s only gambling,’ but it’s not,” said Honolulu Police Department Chief Susan Ballard.
“The crime that we’re seeing, the guns, the stabbing, it's always, for the most part, 95% of the time, is traced back to either illegal gambling or drug activity,” she said.
Price's office plans to issue property owners of the suspected gambling houses a “Notice of Illegal Use of Property and Acknowledgement of Forfeiture Warning.”
The notice explains to landowners that their property is being used for illegal gambling activity and it may be seized through criminal or civil asset forfeiture. The document also tells landowners that they could lose all rights and interest in the seized property.
Price advised landowners who receive the notice to determine what is happening on their property and to seek legal counsel to learn about their rights.
The notices have not yet been sent out to landowners, but will be issued depending on “law enforcement resources and decisions,” he said.
Officials said that on Monday, law enforcement seized about 60 gaming machines and $150,000 in cash related to illegal gambling. They declined to say where the confiscations look place, citing ongoing investigations.
“What we do know is that they’re getting here. They are here,” Price said of the machines. “I can certainly tell you they are not the only 60 in this town.”
Mayor Kirk Caldwell supports the efforts of the various law enforcement agencies investigating gambling on the island.
"Cracking down on these types of operations sends a clear message that illegal gambling won’t be tolerated in our communities," he said.
John Tobon, acting special agent with the Homeland Security Investigations Honolulu Field Office, explained the probe into Oahu's gambling activity seeks to extend beyond the crimes committed.
“Our efforts here are not to just focus on the criminal activity, but really focus on denying them the proceeds from those activities,” he said. “So that we impact not just the organizations, but the underlying infrastructure that helps these organizations thrive.”