JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Internet cafes were raided around Jacksonville on Thursday, spanning from the Westside to Mayport.
First Coast News found three cafes closed on University Boulevard. Lucky Strike and Hot Spot on University Boulevard West were both closed, leaving customers outside the Lucky Strike very upset. Royal Times Sweepstakes on University Boulevard South was also closed.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and other law enforcement agencies served 27 search warrants served in six Florida counties including Duval, Columbia, Brevard, Marion, Lake and Seminole counties. According to a FDLE press release, the internet cafés were owned by Ivan Vega and Peter Miller.
When the warrants were served, the Gaming Task Force investigators reportedly seized computers, cash related to the illegal activity, banking records and employee rosters.
"This Task Force is sending a message to internet café operators who operate outside of the law. We are going to continue to enforce the laws of the state and you will be held accountable," said Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger.
In the 5200 block of Normandy Boulevard witnesses said they saw investigators enter Pete's Retreat Cyber Bar and spotted them going through records inside the business.
First Coast News observed one investigator leaving the business carrying what appeared to be a stack of files.
One customer there told FCN she was at the Pete's Retreat on Blanding Boulevard, but left after it was raided, and went to the Normandy location.
In Mayport, we found one Jacksonville Sheriff's Officer sitting in his vehicle outside Winners Sweepstakes on Mayport Road. A customer standing outside the business told us JSO kicked him out of the business and told him the business was being closed.
Investigators reportedly asked the customer how often he goes to the business, how much money he spends there, and asked if he receives any kind of assistance. The man also said the officers frisked him and asked if he had any weapons.
At the FDLE press conference Thursday afternoon were Statewide Prosecutor Nick Cox, FDLE Assistant Commissioner Jim Madden, Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger, Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson, State Attorney Phil Archer, FDLE Orlando Special Agent in Charge Danny Banks and FDLE Jacksonville Special Agent in Charge Dennis Bustle.
"When I learned there were more these [internet cafes] open, I was in shock," said Cox. "I hope the message is clear to everybody that if your open, we're coming. This wasn't a one-time hit. The Florida Legislature says it is illegal and we will enforce the law."
In addition to warrants served by the Illegal Gaming Task Force, local law enforcement agencies around the state served additional warrants in their jurisdictions. According to the release, additional warrants were served by the Lake and Brevard County Sheriff's Offices and Rockledge, Palm Bay and West Melbourne Police Departments and in Monroe County by State Attorney Catherine Vogel.
State Attorneys Brad King, Phil Archer and Willie Meggs are assisting in the investigations along with the Columbia and Marion County Sheriff's Offices. The Brevard County Sheriff's Office arrested five internet café site managers as part of the operation.
"The Rockledge Police Department is grateful for the assistance provided by State Attorney Phil Archer, The Illegal Gaming Task Force, FDLE agents, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey, Seminole County Sheriff Donald Eslinger, Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson, and Office of Statewide Prosecution," said Rockledge Police Chief Joseph LaSata. "Without their valuable knowledge and assistance, we would not have been able to bring to fruition the illegal gaming operations in our city in such a timely, efficient manner. Our goal is to always maintain the safety of our residents and visitors to our city; today with the assistance of our law enforcement partners we did just that."
This is not the first time police have raided internet cafes. Last year, Operation Reveal the Deal ended with dozens arrested including Nelson Cuba, former president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
The investigation revealed that the gambling centers were operating out of the Allied Veterans of the World company.
They were disguised as internet cafe's generating more than 300 million dollars with only two percent actually going to charity.