Police in New York have broken up an underground poker game that they say was part of a front for a major drug distribution ring.
Officers executed 19 search warrants across multiple states, leading to the arrest of 32 people in New York, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Florida. David Diaz, 52, has been identified as the ring leader of both the drug network, which allegedly distributed cocaine and heroin, as well as illegal gambling operation.
“Both the gambling operation and the narcotics enterprise charged in the indictment unsealed today preyed on human vulnerabilities and demonstrated utter disregard for life,” Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said in a statement.
Another agent referred to it as a “sophisticated underground gambling operation,” requiring a months-long investigation and the assistance of local and federal law enforcement agencies.
They say that the profits from the poker games running at the gambling house helped to fuel the large drug operation. More than $150,000 in cash, thousands of poker chips, as well as guns, heroin, marijuana, and cocaine were seized after police moved in.
High Risk Meet-Up Game
The poker games took place in apartment buildings in New York’s West Village and Lower East side, and they could be surprisingly small, considering the scale of the drug ring.
Organizers would use the website Meetup.com to enlist players. While authorities say some of the clientele consisted of doctors and other professionals who would sometimes lose as much as $20,000 in a night, many of the players were just regular rounders who were grinding small-stakes cash games.
“We welcome respectful poker enthusiasts looking to play 1/3, 2/5, 5/10 no limit hold’em and pot limit omaha in a fun upscale setting in Manhattan,” one of their event pages on Meetup.com read before being taken down.
These games promised free drinks and food, complete with waitresses and security. They would typically run from 4 pm to 4 am and could accommodate about 30 players, all of whom were vetted by organizers before being allowed in the building.
That didn’t prevent several cops from being covertly placed in the game, according to authorities, who say the undercover officers also bought drugs from the group as part of the operation.
At least those cops were on the right side of the law.
Another recent case in the Empire State involved a New York police officer running an illegal poker game himself. Former NYPD detective Richard Palase was convicted of being the brains behind a long-running underground poker game in Staten Island in 2015. He avoided jail time but lost any claim to the pension he’d paid into for 19 years.
Earlier this year, two police officers and a state highway patrol man in Kansas were arrested under similar allegations. While they weren’t believed to be running the game, they were accused of taking part in it, as well as obstructing the FBI officers tasked with trying to take the game down.