Indictments issued after Ohio Internet cafe raids

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CLEVELAND (AP) -- A push by authorities to prosecute what they say are illegal gambling operations involving Internet cafes has led to indictments against 11 people and eight companies in northeast Ohio.

The indictments Thursday by a Cuyahoga County grand jury came in the wake of raids the previous day at six storefront Internet cafes in Cleveland and the suburbs of Euclid and Westlake. Charges include money laundering, conspiracy to engage in corrupt activity, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and possession of criminal tools.

The raids were part of the new statewide prosecution push that comes amid efforts to get legislation approved to crack down on the cafes, which critics allege are fronts for illegal gambling and supporters say are legal and help the economy.

The Ohio House of Representatives approved a bill late last year intended to regulate the cafes. It failed to gain traction in the Senate, but the House passed a new proposal in March that is pending in a Senate committee.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the new prosecution efforts this week, while urging lawmakers to pass the bill regulating Internet Cafe operations.

The latest indictments show that "if you believe you can operate a gambling house in Ohio simply by calling it a 'sweepstakes,' you are sorely mistaken," DeWine said in a statement Friday.

Cafe patrons buy cards for phone and Internet time with chances to play computer games that offer cash prizes.

County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said several of the defendants and companies named in Thursday's indictment are part of a multi-state Internet gambling syndicate controlled by a computer server in New Jersey. Video terminals and cash were seized in the raids.

McGinty said in a release that no illegal casino "is safe from a search and seizure of its slot machines and illicit profits, nor are their operators safe from arrest in Cuyahoga County."

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