Police raid Internet cafe in Liberty

LIBERTY – A Warren woman was one of two employees of an Internet cafe on Belmont Avenue arrested Friday morning during a raid at the establishment.

Police said as of Friday afternoon they were still trying to locate the business owner, who was not named. The business, Belmont Sweeps, 3103 Belmont Ave., was ordered closed.

Amber Almhaiat, 27, of Warren, and Patricia Micochero, 45, of Tallmadge in Summit County, each were charged with operating a gambling house, a misdemeanor. They each were released on their own recognizance and likely will be scheduled to appear in court next week.

Liberty police Chief Richard Tisone said the raid came after a two-week investigation into illegal gambling activities at the establishment.

He said a warrant, secured from Girard Municipal Court, was served on the business about 10:20 a.m. He said officers removed 33 suspected gambling machines, an unspecified amount of cash, various documents and weapons.

Tisone said that during their investigation, undercover detectives gathered evidence that gambling was occurring at the business.

“A lot of it was based on their observations and information they collected,” Tisone said, noting the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office and Girard Municipal Court assisted with the investigation.

Belmont Sweepstakes is one of five Internet cafes in Liberty, and Tisone said he believes it has been operating at least a year.

He said the charges that could be filed against the business owner may be contingent on whether he has a prior conviction.

In a typical Internet cafe, customers pay for Internet time with phone cards and use them to bet points on computers loaded with games. Winners can get cash or merchandise prizes, such as canned coffee or car wax.

Some sites also offer services, including regular Internet service, food and drinks.

The difference between illegal establishments and legal ones, prosecutors say, is the amount of cash prizes a customer can win from playing the “sweepstakes” games offered by the businesses and if the games they provide are games of chance, rather than skill-based games.

Prior to Friday’s raid, the latest count by the state showed 821 cafes in Ohio. In Trumbull County, there were 47 and in Mahoning County, 37.