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Cuyahoga County gambling probe nets Akron-area arrests

Beacon Journal staff report

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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; 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.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said that the indictments are an example of collaboration between state, federal and county officials to crack down on illegal gambling cafes.

“These businesses, hundreds across Ohio, are totally unregulated and can be a real consumer rip-off,” DeWine said.