20 arrested in gambling bust

April 30, 2008 5:24:31 PM PDT
Twenty people are under arrest Wednesday for allegedly running a popular and lucrative gambling ring out of New Jersey. Police say the ring took in up to $200,000 a week.

Eyewitness News reporter Sandra Bookman has the story.

The arrests come after a two-month investigation headed up by the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office, but it involved law enforcement agencies on both sides of the Hudson.

"These people were doing roughly $100,000 to $200,000 a week," Passaic County Prosecutor James Avigliano said.

Avigliano announced Wednesday what he calls a major multi-jurisdictional bust. Police have arrested 20 suspects and confiscated more than $450,000 in cash, along with several computers and ticketing machines.

It was all allegedly part of an illegal gambling ring operating in New Jersey, New York City and Westchester.

Investigators say, much like a legal state lottery, bets were made at bodegas and small restaurants, mostly in New Jersey, and linked to the ring's computers. Runners would later collect the cash.

"It could be anywhere from 50 to 100 locations," Detective Daniel Bachok said. "Stores, restaurants, bodegas."

Nicholas Morel was among those arrested and charged with promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling, after police raided his Passaic store Tuesday morning. He insisted to us he was guilty of nothing.

Investigators identify Juan Francisco Fernandez as the ringleader, and say they found some of the cash stashed in a hidden compartment in his Westchester home. They also say he has a surprising past.

"It appears that Juan Fernandez had previously been employed in the Dominican Republic as some sort of law enforcement officer," Westchester County Assistant District Attorney Steven Vandervelden said.

In addition to the gambling charges, Fernandez and other principle suspects may face charges of money laundering and racketeering. Authorities say the investigation is ongoing.