Federal authorities are ready to cash out following their raids last summer of alleged gambling locations in Stark County.

The targeted businesses had operated largely as skill games parlors. To date, none of the owners, operators or employees is believed to have been charged with a crime.

However, federal prosecutors want to take ownership by legal means of cash seized primarily during a series of raids on or around July 11, 2018, as well as vehicles, houses and jewelry they say were purchased by business operators with gambling profits.

The office of Justin E. Herdman, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland, filed two civil forfeiture complaints in December. The office is asking a federal judge to rule these items — alleged fruits of criminal activity — be forfeited to the government:

• $2.9 million in cash

• Three houses

• Four vehicles

• Jewelry, silver bars, two Rolex watches and other assorted items, including gold and silver coin collections.

Confusing, complex law

Stark County business operators, owners, employees or those contesting the forfeiture effort named within the two filings are: Christos Karasarides Jr., Christopher A. Karasarides, Melissa Bragg, Rocco Ferruccio, Trisha Ferruccio, Todd DiMichele, Christina DiMichele, Thomas Helmick, Mary Helmick, Nicole Shaheen, Ronald DiPietro, Tyra Zwick, Jason Kachner and Rebecca Kachner, Joshua Jay and Marcelle Audi.

Eight businesses also are named as alleged hosts of illegal gambling: Skilled Games Win Win Win 777 (3034 Martindale Road NE, Plain Township); Winner's World (1400 Whipple Ave. NW, Canton Township); West Tuscarawas Skill Games (3802 Tuscarawas St. W, Canton); Eastbury Bowling Center (3000 Atlantic Blvd. NE, Canton); Belden Internet Connection (4623-4627 Whipple Ave. NW, Jackson Township); Gametastic, AKA Match Play 777 (4220 12th St. NW, Canton Township); Skilled Shamrock (4225 Hills and Dales Road NW, Plain Township); and Redemption Skill Games 777 (2824-2826 Whipple Ave. NW, Plain Township).

Most of the named people are represented by attorneys, who have filed paperwork with the court in the past two months, contesting the forfeitures and demanding their money be returned.

All the attorneys were contacted seeking comment for this article. Unsuccessful efforts also were made to reach those without counsel. Only Sam Ferruccio Jr., an attorney who represents Christina and Todd DiMichele, returned a phone call.

Ferruccio said he expects some operators to be charged criminally in the future. But, he pointed out, most locations were licensed by their respective townships, and he said skill games locations fall under an area of the law that has often been confusing and complex.

"We don't even have any specific allegations of which machines," he said, adding game machines come in different varieties, such as sweepstakes variety or skill-based.

In court papers in which Ferruccio argues for the return of $114,714 to his clients, he states the money came from many sources, the business was licensed and the DiMicheles were using machines they believed to be legal, upon advice of counsel.

One of those named in the court filings is the attorney Ferruccio's cousin, Rocco. But Sam Ferruccio said he's not sure why all operators were lumped into the same forfeiture complaints because he said those business owners are largely independent of one another.

What's legal?

Operators of gaming parlors have long been in a tug-of-war over what's legal and what's not in Ohio.

They've contended their games require player skill to win; the video-based games they offer are not won by chance, so therefore not illegal gambling; or they are sweepstakes-style. However, the caveat in state law since 2013 is skill game businesses could not provide cash payouts to winners and are limited to awarding only $10 gas or merchandise cards.

In the forfeiture complaints, prosecutors allege targeted skill games operators in Stark County broke those rules. Those named in the filings are accused of hosting illegal gambling.

The Ohio Casino Control Commission, which regulates the state's four casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo, has had oversight authority of skill games since 2010. That authority became more wide-ranging in 2015 when state lawmakers approved changes that required skill game operators to register with the state by July 22, 2018, then submit an application for a state license a month later.

The law says all key employees, operators, vendors and locations of type-B and type-C skill games are to be registered with the commission. And it includes games ranging from crane and claw stuffed animal machines to those providing tokens and vouchers as prizes.

Prosecutors: Some charged hoarded cash

According to the forfeiture filings, owners of the named businesses are involved in "operating illegal gambling businesses" and "concealment and money laundering of illegal proceeds from those businesses."

The named establishments allegedly operated games of chance, in the form of slot machines, video slot machines, and/or video poker-type slot games, which provided cash payouts.

Prosecutors also allege the owners tried to conceal true ownership of the illegal businesses. In addition, they're accused of hiding income and assets by hoarding large amounts of cash or laundering it through financial transactions that make it appear legitimate.

Among the outlined allegations in the government complaints:

• Christos Karasarides has a criminal history involving illegal gambling and money laundering, with criminal charges in 2005 and a federal conviction in 2014.

• An analysis of business records shows illegal gambling businesses affiliated with Todd DiMichele generated more than $800,000 in yearly profit and those affiliated with Rocco Ferruccio brought in more than $1 million in annual profit.

• Between 2014 and 2018, Ronald DiPietro's share of profits from Skilled Shamrock and Match Play 777 was more than $2 million; Christos Karasarides netted $583,183 during that same span.

• In January and February 2018, Rebecca Kachner stored $241,266 in a YMCA locker in Louisville. She said it was money she largely had earned from 14 years working as a stripper. Prosecutors believe it was proceeds from her husband Jason Kachner's Redemption Skills Games 777.

• Other large chunks of cash were hoarded in homes and at other locations.

Government wants cash, cars and homes

On July 11, 2018, when several federal law enforcement agencies were serving search warrants at skill game locations in Stark, authorities provided few details about the raids.

The government forfeiture filings, though, indicate the sweep was part of a joint investigation by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Food & Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations, U.S. Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Inspector General and the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

Forfeiture statutes, which also exist in state law, enable authorities to seize and possibly claim ownership of money or assets purchased with so-called dirty money. It's a tactic frequently used by prosecutors in illegal drug sales cases, for example.

In these two Stark County federal forfeiture cases, authorities are trying to lay claim to a combined $2.9 million in seized cash; three houses, including one valued by county records at more than $500,000 in Hills & Dales Village; three Mercedes-Benz automobiles and a Cadillac Escalade; two Rolex watches; and several other valuables, including silver bars.