WESLACO, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office seized more than $131,000 from Mega Slots last month, when investigators shut down the illegal casino.
Investigators found cash wrapped in rubber bands, stashed in a safe and hidden in a suitcase full of clothes, according to affidavits filed with the Hidalgo County District Clerk’s Office on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
Prosecutors submitted the affidavits as part of two civil forfeiture cases, which ask judges for permission to keep the money.
“Whenever you use an instrument or property to conduct a criminal action, that’s subject to be forfeited,” said Hidalgo County District Attorney Toribio “Terry” Palacios.
The affidavits reveal new details about the Mega Slots investigation, which involved two undercover operations and several weeks of surveillance.
In July, an investigator with the Sheriff’s Office received a tip about Mega Slots.
People frequently call the Sheriff’s Office with tips about illegal gambling, said Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra.
“You’ve got people coming and saying: ‘My parents are on a fixed income and they go to these establishments and they’re losing all their money,’” Guerra said.
The Sheriff’s Office started watching Mega Slots on July 12. After six days of surveillance, the investigator decided to conduct an undercover operation.
Two investigators, armed with hidden cameras, showed up at Mega Slots on July 18.
During the operation, an investigator won a game called “Lock it Link.”
The investigator received a ticket and walked to a counter near the back of Mega Slots.
At the counter, the investigator turned in the ticket and received “different colored bags containing metal pebbles and a sticker with the title Mega Slots,” according to the affidavits.
The investigator walked to a nearby shed called “Lucky Charm’s Boutique,” which swapped the pebbles for cash.
Many game rooms in Hidalgo County use a similar system to pay out cash to customers.
“They’re using that as some form of defense, but it’s still illegal,” Guerra said. “As long as they’re paying out cash, it’s illegal.”
Investigators conducted another undercover operation on Aug. 8.
The Sheriff’s Office raided Mega Slots the next day.
Investigators arrested 14 people, including at least two security guards licensed by the Texas Department of Public Safety. They also seized about $46,000 in cash and the motherboards from 200 slot machines.
During interviews with investigators, employees said Rosendo De Los Rios, 53, of Donna and Cynthia Castillo, 51, of Donna owned Mega Slots and Lucky Charm’s Boutique.
Investigators arrested them on Aug. 11.
De Los Rios said he was “solely responsible,” for the illegal gambling operation, according to the affidavits, which summarized his statement.
“Mr. De Los Rios only provided that information and asked for his attorney,” according to the affidavits. “Ms. Castillo exercised her rights and did not want to cooperate.”
Investigators also searched Castillo’s truck, a black Ford F-150.
They found about $85,000, which had been stuffed in a suitcase, a plastic Walmart bag, a black Coach bag and a wallet.
All 16 people arrested during the investigation were charged with gambling promotion, a Class A misdemeanor; keeping a gambling place, a Class A misdemeanor; possession of a gambling device, equipment or paraphernalia, a Class A misdemeanor; and engaging in organized criminal activity, a state jail felony.
If convicted on the felony charge, they face a maximum of two years in jail.
De Los Rios and Castillo could not be reached for comment at phone numbers listed in public records.