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State wants to reap profits of video gambling machines

Catching people allegedly operating illegal video gambling machines was the first step. Now the state of Florida wants the profits those machines generated. The state filed three civil lawsuits Friday against people its investigators say were involved in putting more than 200 gambling machines in bars along Florida's west coast.

The state is seeking real estate, businesses, cars and other items it says it can prove were used to violate Florida's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act or were bought with illegal proceeds.

"We're going for everything," said Jeanne Clougher, assistant attorney general in the state's department of legal affairs.

Named in the lawsuits were Charles Edward Pierce; Johnny Rowe and his wife, Gladys Rowe; Rowe's business, Ernie Martin Plumbing; the estate of William Rains, who was shot and killed almost two years ago; John Rains and Rebecca Hamilton, both of Pinellas Park; and William Rains' business, Lenny's Bar.

All of the lawsuits named Florida Vending and Royal Vending as well.

The Rowes could not be reached for comment. Pierce has an unlisted telephone number. Rebecca Hamilton, whose address is the same as John Rains', according to the lawsuits, would not comment.

After a yearlong investigation, Pierce, Johnny Rowe and John Rains were arrested in August and September and charged with violating the state's RICO act.

They were accused of profiting from video gambling machines that had been installed in bars and other businesses for at least five years.

The machines were ordinary _ legal _ video game machines. The owners crossed the legal line when players received a monetary payoff, the state said.

Last March, 24 people were arrested when police raided eight bars and fraternal organizations.

Some of the things the state is asking the court to give it include:

Ernie Martin Plumbing and Lenny's Bar. William Rains, who owned Lenny's, never was prosecuted but was involved in the companies that owned the machines, the lawsuit claims.

Pieces of land in Citrus and Levy counties.

A house in Pinellas Park where John Rains and Hamilton live, according to the lawsuit.

Proceeds from the sale of a 37-foot fishing boat named Billie.

William Rains' daughter, Sheila Miller, said Lenny's Bar is for sale, but she said the estate is tied up because because her stepmother, Billie Rains, is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of her husband, who was shot in the back during a family argument.

Whether Billie Rains can claim any proceeds from the estate will depend upon the outcome of her trial set for this spring.