By Ken Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
News and Commentary
GREAT MILLS, MD. — The bad boys and greedy charities who want to profit from illegal gambling are at it again in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. In spite of strict laws regarding so-called “charity gambling”, two “fraternal” groups in the county are implicated and may be charged with crimes, along with one serial wild-west bar style bar owner and his supplier have been charged with violating local and state gambling laws. The fraternal groups find the easy money of slot machines was a better source of revenue than actually doing what previous generations of members have done to raise money.
Capt. Daniel Alioto of the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department, who led the probe, told THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY that the case was all about theft.
“These cases have less to do with the gaming devices and everything to do with greed,” said Alioto. “We didn’t get caught up in the legality of the devices, this was a theft investigation. The law is clear, 100% of the money raised, 100% of the money, has to go to the charity. You can’t skim, bill, rental or in this case pocket the money for your personal use.”
The bar owner – Dickie Gatton owner owner of the Brass Rail – who’s establishment has had repeated stabbings, shootings and murders take place in and around the bar, manages to curry favor with politicians and somehow retain his liquor license in spite of the laws being violated in and around his establishment. The liquor board itself held a function at the bar only two weeks after a murder when a drug dealer was shooting at the cop and the cop shooting back. In spite of fresh crime scene markings on the pavement, the planned function – a luncheon sponsored by the liquor board and the liquor retailers hosted St. Mary’s States Attorney Richard Fritz and his top prosecutors, the Maryland State Police Barrack Commander and Commanders of the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department. None of them had enough common sense to cancel the meeting or find another way to grab a free meal.
The liquor board membership is composed of politically-appointed members proposed by the incumbent state senator, and their qualifications are simply a matter of whether or not they or their families supported the campaign of the senator. Even President Bill Clinton’s secretary Betty Currie who was famous for having possession of the ‘dress with the mess’, was appointed by Sen. Roy Dyson, based on her fame and the fact that she had moved to Hollywood, Md. At her first meeting with the liquor board, she was able to consider the violation of a bar in San Souci Plaza, which was cited for allowing a live sex act by performers. Leonardtown Attorney Shane Mattingly argued at Currie’s first meeting that Maryland law states that lesbian sex isn’t sex. You can’t make this stuff up. More than one candidate for sheriff has held political fundraisers at that bar – the Brass Rail owned by Dickie Gatton – and in election years, Gatton’s commercial properties and the nearby corner of his bar parking lot are lined with the campaign signs of the various feckless politicians running or holding office.
Officials of the charities, who pocket the illegally gotten gains, trotted off to a Maryland Senate hearing demanding that state officials change the law to allow them to profit legally from being in bed with criminals. Those who testified in 2008 at a Senate committee hearing included a member of one of the groups charged today again, retired banker Kennedy Abell. Abell is a member of the Leonardtown Lions Club. In the most recent round of “charity scamming”, George Wells was indicted and pleaded guilty to scamming an organization that rescues retired race horses by operating a casino in Charlotte Hall, Md. Wells plea included him forfeiting money seized in a raid. The group never got a penny in the scam, and the plea deal avoided Wells from having to go jail. Wells had previously owned the Charlotte Hall House of Ribs and hosted a charity golf tournament at the county-owned Wicomico Shores Golf Club where hookers performed sexual services for fees at the ninth hole. Anything goes for charity in St. Mary’s County. Bar owner Billy Hill posed for photos with slot machine operator Frank Moran in his St. Mary’s Landing bar and was interviewed asserting that the funds from the illegal machines went to charity while audits found that only a small portion ever was received. A big portion of the Fred’s Liquors was designated for a slew of illegal slot machines with officials of a youth services group standing in to vouch for the crooks while receiving only a small portion of the money with the crooked gambling machine owners keeping most of the money.
Even the officials connected with running Little Flower school in Great Mills have tried to give cover to Gatton in the past as they grabbed what gambling money they could and attempted to legitimize his criminal conduct with the blessing of the Catholic school. Ironicially every dollar that went to Gatton failed to be taken in at the legal Bingo operations of the school. But the draw for that non-profit and legal charity was the same as it has always been – easy money – and the nice people running the fraternal groups just weren’t bright enough to know and understand the law or simply didn’t care. In fact, during the terms of St. Mary’s States Attorney Richard Fritz, with the various “charitable” outfits raking in small percentages of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits from the machines, no one has ever gone to jail. Not the charitable organization’s officials, not the bar owners – nobody. Scamming the public by making them believe that all or a significant portion of the proceeds goes to charity has been a profitable business under the law enforcement leadership of Fritz. Sleazy fraternal organizations such as the Leonardtown Lions Club and the Patuxent Moose lodge are either run by idiots or crooks.
St. Mary’s Sheriff Tim Cameron has been conducting investigations into these gambling gangsters, some of whom have had organized crime connections out of the area and Cameron has brought in the FBI and other agencies to assist his detectives. Capt. Daniel Alioto, commander of the Vice and Narcotics Squad has been relentless in pursuing the violators. Truckloads of illegal slot machines have been seized from the ADF Bingo Hall, Boatman’s Mini Mart, St. Mary’s Landing and other locations including the Brass Rail over the years as local charitable groups continue to be ripped off by collusion between their own either sleazy or simple-minded leaders and the criminal element. The following is the report of St. Mary’s Sheriff Tim Cameron on the most recent investigation and arrests: In January of 2015 the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, Vice and Narcotics Division initiated two separate investigations involving the operation of gaming devices at two locations in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.
The first investigation was initiated on January 21, 2015 when detectives visited the Patuxent Moose Lodge in Hollywood, Md., upon receiving “anonymous” information regarding the presence of “illegal slot machines.” Detectives quickly dispelled the allegations by determining the devices were not “slot machines” but were, in fact “gaming devices” that were legal. However, the investigation revealed the gaming devices were not being operated in accordance with the St. Mary’s County Gaming provision and therefore in violation of the statewide provision. Investigators discovered Roger Lee Benfield, Sr. is the owner of R.E. Enterprises, Incorporated, a Maryland corporation that provides coin operated amusement games to retail establishments, and that in 2013 Roger Lee Benfield, Sr., and the Patuxent Moose Lodge entered into an agreement that permitted Roger Benfield to place five gaming devices within the establishment.
The agreement permitted the proceeds of the gaming devices to be divided between Roger Benfield’s company and the Patuxent Moose Lodge with Roger Benfield being responsible for the maintenance of the gaming devices which required, among other tasks, collecting money from the devices and ensuring the proper disbursements to the Patuxent Moose Lodge and his company. The gaming devices, financial records, and other items of evidence were seized from the Patuxent Moose Lodge pending further investigation. An analysis of the financial documents revealed from about August of 2013 through January 21, 2015 Roger Benfield retained approximately $27,987.10 in proceeds from the operation of the gaming devices. Detectives also uncovered evidence that suggest Roger Benfield became a member of the Patuxent Moose Lodge for the sole purpose of giving the appearance of compliance with the criminal statute that requires the gaming devices to be operated by a member of the qualified organization. The second investigation was initiated on January 23, 2015 when detectives visited the Brass Rail Sports Bar located in Great Mills, Md. to investigate the presence of additional gaming devices that were being operated by Roger Benfield. Investigators made contact with Charles Benedict “Dickie” Gatton and Hilda Mae Gatton, who own and operate the establishment. The investigators also discovered the presence of five (5) gaming devices. An inspection of the devices revealed four of the devices operated in the same manner as the devices located in the Patuxent Moose Lodge and one device that functioned as a pull-tab vending machine, both of which are gaming devices.
The investigation revealed, in 2008 Charles “Dickie” Gatton entered into an agreement with the Leonardtown Lions Club that permitted a gaming device to be placed at the Brass Rail Sports Bar and the proceeds from the gaming device to be divided evenly between the Leonardtown Lions Club and the Brass Rail Sports Bar. The device, which was the previously described pull-tab vending machine, was managed exclusively by Hilda Mae Gatton and required her, among other tasks, to collect money from the device and ensure the proper disbursement to the Leonardtown Lions Club and to the Brass Rails Sports Bar.
The investigation also revealed that in January of 2012 Roger Benfield and Charles “Dickie” Gatton entered into an agreement that permitted Roger Benfield to place four (4) gaming devices inside the establishment and required Roger Benfield to manage the devices, which included collecting money from the devices and ensuring the proper disbursement to the Brass Rail Sports Bar and R.E. Benfield Enterprises, Incorporated. All of the gaming devices were seized from the establishment, and additional items of evidence were obtained by the investigators. An inspection of those documents revealed from January of 2012 through December of 2014 Hilda Mae Gatton and the Leonardtown Lions Club both received approximately $24,460.00 in proceeds from the operation of the gaming device.
Furthermore, those same documents and records indicate Charles “Dickie” Gatton and Roger Benfield both received approximately $109,498.00 from the operation of the four (4) gaming devices from January of 2012 through December of 2014. With respect to Charles Gatton, it is believed that he retained approximately $73,892.00 of his share of the proceeds for personal benefit while giving just $35,606.00 to the Leonardtown Lions Club. With respect to Roger Benfield, it is believed he retained his entire share of the proceeds for personal benefit.
During the course of the investigation several search and seizure warrants were obtained which lead to the seizure of gaming devices and more than $129,000.00 in cash from proceeds of the gaming devices in the possession of Charles (Dickie) and Hilda Mae Gatton. In summary, the investigations revealed Roger Benfield, Charles Gatton, and Hilda Mae Gatton received portions of the proceeds generated by the gaming devices for personal benefit. Although the Patuxent Moose Lodge and the Leonardtown Lions Club are qualified organizations permitted to operate gaming devices, the proceeds generated from the operation of the gaming devices were intentionally diverted to the three subjects, contrary to the laws that require all proceeds to be retained by the organization.
On February 23, 2015, Narcotics detectives applied for charges against Roger Benfield, Charles Gatton and Hilda Mae Gatton related to this investigation. More specifically, with respect to the investigation at the Patuxent Moose Lodge, Roger Benfield was charged with one count of having an interest in a gaming table, one count of keeping a gaming table at the Patuxent Moose Lodge, and one count of perpetrating a theft scheme having a value between $10,000.00 and $100,000.00.
With respect to the investigation at the Brass Rail Sports Bar, Roger Benfield was charged with one count of having an interest in a gaming table, one count of keeping a gaming table at the Brass Rail Sports Bar, and one count of perpetrating a theft scheme having a value more than $100,000.00. Charles “Dickie” Gatton was charged with one count of having an interest in a gaming table, one count of permitting a gaming table to be kept at the Brass Rail, and one count of perpetrating a theft scheme having a value between $10,000.00 and $100,000.00.
Hilda Mae Gatton was charged with one count of having an interest in a gaming table and one count of perpetrating a theft scheme having a value between $10,000.00 and $100,000.00. In total, the gaming devices at the Brass Rail Sports Bar alone generated more than $300,000.00 in gross proceeds, of which the Leonardtown Lions Club received only $60,000.00.
By law, all of the proceeds must be directed to the charity. The investigation is continuing, and detectives will continue to work with the State’s Attorney’s Office to determine if additional charges will be placed and arrests made of others who may be involved . “Bad boys, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”