Documents just released by the King County Prosecutor’s office reveal more details about the two-year long investigation by Seattle police into several underground card rooms around the city, which resulted in a $217,000 drug bust on June 10.
Police say the investigation into four underground casinos in Capitol Hill, Belltown and Ballard—dubbed "Operation Big Slick,'” which, an affidavit says, “is poker vernacular for a particularly desirable pair of cards"—was, in part, a response to the Capitol Hill Massacre in 2006.
According to an affidavit, the investigation was brought on by "recent violence involving the after-hours party scene [and] the historic potential for violence involving illegal gambling establishments (eg, the Wah-Mee massacre),” as well as efforts by the city to increase nightlife safety.
Police apparently discovered the Capitol Hill speakeasy on 14th and Pike after a newspaper article in September 2007—the affidavits do not cite a publication—and were later contacted by a confidential informant who told police they had been to the underground club.
Police then sent in an undercover SPD detective known to gamblers as "Bryan Owens," who befriended several alleged key members of the casinos’ management.
Over the next two years, affidavits say, police recorded "audio intercepts" of conversations between the undercover officer Owens and card room management, as Owens observed how the card rooms were run. Owens was later given access to the clubs’ financial records.
Affidavits say Owens, along with other undercover officers and members of the Washington State Gambling Commission, sat in on card games where more than $5,000 changed hands, ten percent of which went to the "house". State regulations that say no more than $5,000 may be bet at a location over a 30-day period.
Police apparently didn’t expect for the investigation into the card rooms to go on so long—"I anticipated (incorrectly) that the mission would last only two weeks," Vice unit sergeant Ryan Long wrote in one affidavit—and records do not indicate why the department decided to shell out thousands of dollars to keep the card room going after management decided to shut down a speakeasy on 14th and Pike after management found out they were under investigation by the state gambling commission.
According to a source source familiar with the casinos' operations, Owens offered to find a location for the new club and Seattle Public Utilities records indicate that Owens had leased a warehouse space in Belltown which allowed the gambling operation to continue.
The affidavits appear to tie the Belltown casino to a Seattle art collective—the Free Sheep Foundation—which was housed in the same building as the casino in Belltown, and another business, the Tubs spa in the University district, which was also was home to the Free Sheep Foundation after Tubs closed.
Police say the Belltown club was "open[ed]...under the guise of the legitimate business (known as the Free Sheep Foundation)" and that the tables and bars at the various card rooms came from the now-closed Tubs on 47th and University, which, police allege, was owned by a participant in the gambling operation.
After the Belltown location shut down last winter, the casino moved back to a Capitol Hill apartment rented by alleged casino manager Rick Wilson.
Wilson was at the scene of the June 10 drug deal—records say he was enlisted to provide security for the undercover detective, although court filings say Wilson showed up late for the meet—and although Wilson has been charged with distribution and aiding and abetting, several of Wilson’s friends claim that Wilson was only peripherally involved in the drug trade.
However, one affidavit says undercover detective Owens spotted cocaine, scales and packaging material in Wilson's apartment. The affidavit says the detective also was able to purchase more than 12 grams of Cocaine from Wilson—who faces a minimum of 40 years if convicted in connection with last week’s drug bust—and an additional seven grams from another card room attendee. Wilson also told the detective he was in possession of "hot" or stolen property, the affidavit says.
Wilson and the man who allegedly brokered the June 10 drug deal, Marshall Reinsch, have been released from jail and put on GPS monitoring. Three Honduran men arrested during the deal are still in custody.
The US Attorney's office and King County Prosecutor's office say no gambling charges have been filed in relation to the gambling operations.