The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Hawaii is cracking down on illegal gambling operations in the state.

The latest enforcement action includes five cases that resulted in charges against 15 defendants, U.S. Attorney Kenji Price announced in a press conference Tuesday.

Gambling operations have “spread their tentacles into residential areas, jeopardizing the safety and security of communities like Pearl City and Waipahu,” he said.

U.S. Attorney Kenji Price says illegal gambling operations are spreading to residential areas in Hawaii. 

Two of the five cases involve gambling businesses operating out of single-family homes in the two communities he mentioned. In the Pearl City case, a patron was also allegedly robbed at gunpoint after he won $4,000 playing an electronic video gambling machine.

The U.S. Attorney would not say if they were renters or owners. He said the investigations were ongoing.

Price said part of the strategy in dealing with illegal gambling cases is to utilize civil and criminal asset forfeiture. His office created a special notice to notify homeowners about forfeiture.

“If you or anyone else you know happens to get a cut of the proceeds of illegal gambling, we’ll be trying to seize that too,” he said.

However, asset forfeiture is a law enforcement tactic that often draws heavy criticism from civil rights groups. The American Civil Liberties Union says “many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting.”

When asked about what steps homeowners can take when they receive a federal asset forfeiture notice, Price said they should seek legal counsel.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office Asset Forfeiture Notice is being sent to homeowners whose properties may be used in illegal gambling operations. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of Hawaii is cooperating with not only local law enforcement, such as the Honolulu Police Department, but also other federal law enforcement agencies to crack down on illegal gambling in Hawaii.

That includes the Department of Homeland Security and its investigative arm, Homeland Security Investigations, which typically gets involved when it’s a transnational crime.

That’s because crimes like illegal gambling often involve money exchanges that go beyond borders, said John Tobon, the acting special agent in charge of HSI for the Honolulu field office. And criminal organizations abroad are buying real estate in Honolulu, he added.

Illegal gambling is also indicative of other criminal activity, Tobon said. “If we look at history, when we look at illegal gambling dens, we are looking at some type of organized crime or a wave of criminal actors to gain funding for other activities,” he said.

The money that’s collected through these dens is often used to fund things like narcotics and firearms, he said.

“It helps them promote other types of activities that hurt our community,” Tobon said.

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said her agency will continue to cooperate with federal agencies. “We are going to go after the people who are committing these crimes.”

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