Lyford game room made at least $21M in just over a year, 2 arrested

Eight-liner machines are seen during a raid June 19, 2015, in Sullivan City. (Nathan Lambrecht | The Monitor)

They weren’t cashing out toilet paper at the El Toro Game Room in Lyford.

At least according to a federal criminal complaint that was unsealed last week against the eight-liner’s owner, Rene Gamez owner.

Prosecutors asked the judge to sign it one day after a grand jury issued a second superseding indictment in the case on Sept. 20 against Gamez and Dominga Ledesma, the owner of Brittany’s Boutique.

The indictment and the arrest appear to be the culmination of an investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations that dates back to at least an initial October 2018 raid on the game room.

Several months later, in January 2019, agents working with local law enforcement agencies again raided the eight-liner after investigators learned that game room employees were exchanging winners’ silver tokens for cash at Raymondville’s Brittany’s Boutique.

The criminal complaint against Gamez confirms initial allegations about exchanging silver trinkets and silver pellets for customer payout.

However, both Gamez and Ledesma are facing multiple charges in a 16-count indictment alleging structuring transactions to evade reporting requirements and fraud with identification documents.

The charges in the complaint against Gamez span from June 2018 to January 2019 and allege that in order to operate the illegal gambling operation, Gamez and Ledesma created an indirect payout system for customers that used silver trinkets or silver pellets.

“At the beginning of each day employees of El Toro Game Room would go to Brittany’s Boutique and purchase large amounts of pellets in amounts greater than $10,000 USD,” the complaint stated. “In the course of the gambling operation, Gamez caused the owner of Brittany’s Boutique, Dominga Ledesma, to file multiple IRS Form 8300s with FinCEN which totaled approximately $21 Million Dollars USD in cash.”

Businesses must file these forms to report cash payments of over $10,000 to the Internal Revenue Service and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN.

Federal authorities allege the cash received by Brittany’s Boutique was revenue from El Toro Game Room’s illegal gambling operation, and the complaint against Ledesma alleges she filed 37 such forms between May 31, 2017 and Oct. 30, 2018 that totaled $21 million.

The complaint said that at Gamez’s direction, Ledesma placed an individual identified as L.F.R. on the forms as the source of currency, not Gamez. L.F.R. died in February 2017, according to federal prosecutors.

The evidence of this, according to the investigators, is Ledesma’s own statement to law enforcement.

“Ledesma stated Gamez did not want to provide Ledesma with information required on the forms 8300 and when Ledesma asked Gamez for information about Gamez, Gamez brought in an ‘old man’ and Gamez identified the old man as the owner of the El Toro Game Room and stated that Gamez handled all of his business through the old man,” the complaint stated.

Despite the fact that L.F.R. had died in February 2017, the criminal complaint details five times between June 28, 2018 and Sept. 13, 2018 that Ledesma filed the forms.

The total amount reported during that approximate four-month period totaled $3,171,290.

Throughout the investigation, the complaint said that cooperating witnesses and confidential sources have confirmed that Gamez is the owner of the game room, not L.F.R. Furthermore, the sources confirmed the arrangement with Ledesma was an attempt by Gamez to avoid reporting requirements and to not be identified by the IRS for sources of illegal income, according to the complaint.

There are also apparently recorded phone calls from 2018 between a cooperating witness and Gamez, where Gamez instructs the witness to be “listed” as the owner of the El Toro Game Room.

“We have done this before, just tell them you are the new owner and sign the little paper they give you,” Gamez is quoted as saying in the complaint.

After this conversation, more Form 8300s were filed by Ledesma using this individual between November 2018 and January 2019.

The complaint said Gamez paid this individual $1,000 per month to allow Ledesma to falsely list them as the source of the currency.

“This was not the only attempt or time Gamez gave false information in regard to the game room. During the same time frame in question, Gamez had building permits, City of Lyford permits, and State of Texas permits for each individual machine listed to other individuals, and Gamez would pay these individuals for that sole purpose of keeping his identity from being associated with El Toro Game Room,” the complaint stated.

Ledesma is scheduled to make an initial appearance on her new charges in the latest indictment on Thursday afternoon while Gamez was scheduled to make a first appearance in McAllen federal court Wednesday afternoon in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Nadia S. Medrano.