Posted on May 31, 2012 HYPERLINK "http://legalohiosweepstakes.com/?author=1"
Beacon Journal staff report Published: May 30, 2012 – 03:42 PM | Updated: May 30, 2012 – 11:11 PM
Four Akron-area men are among 10 indicted Thursday in Cuyahoga County in a crackdown of illegal Internet sweepstakes cafes.
The indictments were announced by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason along with the Ohio Investigative Unit of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, the Parma Heights Police Department, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal Service and U.S. Postal Inspector’s Office. Seven companies were also cited for their involvement in the gambling operation.
The probe centered on an Internet gambling system known as "VS2" that authorities say was controlled by a computer server in the New Jersey headquarters of VS2 Worldwide Communications.
Authorities charge the New Jersey-based operation was assisted over four years in moving gambling machines into Northeast Ohio by George Georgekopoulos, 37, of Hinckley (330) 854-6544, 7917 Lutz Ave NW, Massillon, OH 44646; Pete Georgekopoulos, 39, of Stow; Christos Karasarides Jr., 46, of Canton; and Christopher Maggiore, 46, of Canton.
They are accused of convincing small business owners in Cuyahoga County that the VS2 Internet cafe gaming system operates as "sweepstakes," which are not illegal and are unregulated in Ohio.
Most of the machines were initially placed in Cuyahoga County bars and restaurants and later in unregulated Internet cafes.
The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office said it was able to obtain bank records that helped the Ohio Investigative Unit and the U.S. Secret Service identify numerous company and individual bank accounts being used to "launder" vast amounts of cash being generated by the machines in Cuyahoga County.
Authorities say the revenue from the machines was funneled to New Jersey to VS2 Worldwide Communications by check and money order.
Since February 2008, authorities say, VS2 has profited from illegal gambling by an estimated $48 million and those funds have been distributed to various individuals, including Karasarides, George Georgekopoulos and Pete Georgekopoulos.
Mason said that those indicted created "a complicated and elaborate, layered web of related companies dispersing and distributing money to each other with hopes of never being caught."
The indictments include charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy, gambling, operating a gambling house and money laundering.
Maria Russo, public information officer of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, said George Georgekopoulos, 37, is charged with one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony; two counts of conspiracy, a second-degree felony; one count of gambling, a fifth-degree felony; and five counts of money laundering, a third-degree felony. He could receive a maximum of 26 years in prison.
Georgekopoulos was one of 10 people and seven companies indicted on related charges, Russo said, including his brother, Pete Georgekopoulos, 39, of Stow.
County Assistant Prosecutor J.D. May said the charges target those responsible for manufacturing the software as well as those selling it in Cuyahoga County.
Of the county’s 51 operating Internet Cafes, May said, 18 have been using the software, called VS2, which is manufactured in New Jersey. Those cafes were sent cease and desist orders, he said, but have not been charged.
May said Georgekopoulos, his brother and one other defendant own Elite Entertainment Inc., which is doing business as VS2 Marketing Group.
“The only thing the corporation does is accept checks for VS2 in New Jersey and redirect checks to themselves,” May said.
While there is no legal definition of a sweepstakes or Internet cafe, they are largely known for selling time cards, or phone cards, for customers to use to gamble or play games online to be entered into sweepstakes through the business.
In March, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine issued an opinion calling for regulation of the cafes.
While sweepstakes cafes are not illegal, May said gambling laws apply.
“These are basically casinos on computer screens,” May said. “People are going in to use these places to gamble.”
George Georgekopoulos’ arraignment is scheduled for Friday.
Russo said eight agencies were involved in the investigation that led to the indictments, including the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Marshal Service.
Contact Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.