Seven employees at Jackie’s Restaurant & Lounge surrendered to Pharr Police Department investigators last week on gambling charges.
Investigators started scrutinizing the dive bar during May, when they heard Jackie’s had slot machine-style devices, according to court records. Officers compiled a dossier on the owners and conducted four undercover operations.
When the bar paid cash prizes, police raided Jackie’s.
Officers seized nearly $6,500 cash and more than 20 computers on July 6, according to court records. They charged seven employees — ranging from the bookkeeper to the cook — but didn’t arrest the owners.
“The business owners and other employees remain under investigation,” according to a statement released by the police department.
During the lengthy investigation, police documented links between Jackie’s and Stilettos Cabaret, the strip club on North Sugar Road.
Fred H. Feurtado Jr., 47, of Brownsville and Ramiro R. Armendariz III, 47, of McAllen own both businesses, according to documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.
“Stilletos Gentleman’s Club (sic) employees participated in the gambling scheme as well,” according to court records.
Armendariz and Feurtado didn’t respond to requests for comment.
That Jackie’s had slot machine-style devices wasn’t a secret.
Pharr police Inv. Roberto Vasquez interviewed a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agent who went undercover at Jackie’s in October 2016, according to court records.
The undercover agent said he approached a bartender, who handed him a ticket, according to court records. After typing the ticket number, the agent started playing a machine.
He won. And the bartender paid cash.
The Alcoholic Beverage Commission, though, didn’t make any arrests.
“It was still ongoing when Pharr PD contacted us,” said Lt. Mario Villarreal, the agency’s McAllen-area supervisor.
Agents briefed Pharr police on the investigation, contacted the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office and closed the case, Villarreal said.
Pharr police and a city building inspector also observed the machines during routine visits.
In February, police noticed “electronic gambling gaming machines” during an inspection, according to criminal complaints against the employees.
Officers met with the bar owner during April and attempted to explain Texas gambling laws, according to the criminal complaints, which don’t detail what, exactly, they discussed — or which owner police met with.
For reasons that remain unclear, the Pharr Police Department didn’t start investigating Jackie’s until May.
The Fraternal Order of Eagles
A little luck and an offhand comment apparently triggered the investigation.
At 8:39 p.m. on May 13, investigators raided the Fraternal Order of Eagles building on South Cage Boulevard.
The famous fraternal organization had fallen on hard times and started renting space.
Rent money funded scholarships, said local President Elberto Bravo. When police arrived, Bravo said he didn’t understand why the machines weren’t legal.
Officers seized 11 machines and $810 cash, according to the criminal complaint against the manager.
“All I told them was ‘What’s the difference between Jackie’s and us?’” Bravo said.
Officers started investigating Jackie’s just 10 days later.
Investigators conducted the first undercover operation at Jackie’s on June 19, according to court records. They handed an informant $50 to play the machines.
According to the criminal complaint:
“The (CI) stated that after entering the business, he/she was instructed by the bartender to produce an identification in which the female Bartender / cashier entered the identification card on a computerized cashier box and issued a ticket with a number to the (CI). The (CI) stated that he/she entered the code on the ticket and then placed cash money into a machine. Upon winning, the (CI) stated that he/she approached the female Bartender / cashier and gave her the ticket with the number code that had been issued and that the Bartender / cashier entered the ticket code from the issued ticket into a computer which then reflected the current winning on the machine that the (CI) had played. The Bartender / cashier removed cash money from the cashier box and paid out the winnings to the (CI).
Court records don’t provided any details about the machines.
Through a city spokeswoman, the police department described the machines as eight-liners. Sometimes called maquinitas, they resemble slot machines.
Investigators conducted virtually identical undercover operations on June 20 and June 22, according to criminal complaints against the employees. They conducted the final undercover operation on July 5.
State District Judge Mario E. Ramirez Jr. signed a search warrant for Jackie’s the next day.
Officers seized 21 machines and nearly $6,500 cash, according to court records. They also impounded a silver 2009 GMC Arcadia owned by an employee.
“There was also evidence which was confirmed that the owners of Jackie’s Restaurant and Lounge employed an illegal immigrant without the proper documentation to work in the United States,” according to court records. “I, Inv. Vasquez, learned that Stilletos Gentleman’s Club (sic) employees participated in the gambling scheme as well.”
Court records don’t provide any details about Stilettos Cabaret employees or connections between the strip club and Jackie’s.
Armendariz and Feurtado, who own both businesses, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Police allowed seven bar employees to self-surrender last week:
- Maxi Lisbeth Rodriguez Jenkins, 28, of San Juan
- Levanna Yevtte De Los Santos, 37, of McAllen
- Jessica Michelle Barrera, 28, of McAllen
- Nohely Lizzeth Magdaleno, 22, of Donna
- Marta Barraza, 60, of McAllen
- Emedina Rodriguez, 56, of Laguna Vista
- Leobardo Robledo, 42, of Donna
All seven employees were charged with engaging in organized criminal activity, a state jail felony; gambling promotion, a Class A misdemeanor; possession of gambling equipment, a Class A misdemeanor; and keeping a gambling place, a Class A misdemeanor.
“We’re looking into the matter,” said attorney Daniel G. Rios, who represents the bar. “And will provide a public statement in the future.”