Friendly poker games or illegal gambling?
Tag: Charlottesville Law Firm
About a year ago, as the dinner crowd at Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant supped on endless crab legs and other buffet fare, police raided a small home across Laskin Road, carting away money, paperwork and electronics they suspected were tied to illegal gambling.
Now restaurateur George Pitsilides, who owns the home as well as Captain George’s, faces felony gambling charges that could land him in prison.
A grand jury Monday indicted Pitsilides, 59, on three counts of operating a continuing illegal gambling operation, the result of a “lengthy” undercover investigation, according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. He’s accused of hosting poker tournaments at the home across from his restaurant on three occasions in February, March and April of last year, said Macie Pridgen, a spokeswoman for the office.
But Pitsilides’ attorney, James Broccoletti, said those poker games “between friends and family and long-standing members of the community” were legal.
“We believe that poker is a game of skill supported by Virginia law,” Broccoletti said. “And, at the conclusion of this trial, his innocence will be clear.”
The case may come down to one question: Did Pitsilides take a cut of the winnings? That cut is what turns a harmless poker game between friends into an illegal activity, Pridgen said.
Pitsilides collected money to pay for food and drinks during the Texas Hold ’em games, according to a news release sent out Monday afternoon by a Washington communications firm.
“It is a total waste of taxpayer dollars to indict someone for hosting a legal game and sharing the cost of the pastrami sandwiches,” Broccoletti said in the release.
Pitsilides is charged with conducting a continuous gambling operation, which state law defines as ongoing for more than 30 days. It carries a stiffer penalty: a fine of up to $20,000 and at least a year, but not more than a decade, in prison for each count, according to the law.
In addition to the home on Laskin Road, police searched Pitsilides’ Cavalier Park residence and bank accounts belonging to his family and restaurant, seizing property including a 2008 Mercedes-Benz, a 2007 Chevrolet Corvette and more than $270,000 in cash, according to court documents. Prosecutors also filed paperwork to confiscate the home at 1945 Laskin Road, which is guarded by security cameras in the windows and under the eaves.
Also indicted in the case was 41-year-old Lisa Michelle Crain, of the 1800 block of Thomas Lane, on two identical gambling charges, according to a news release from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. Crain is accused of working as a waitress at the poker games, said Broccoletti, who is not representing Crain.
No one answered Monday at a phone number listed for Crain.
Pitsilides owns four Captain George’s restaurants: the one at Hilltop in Virginia Beach, and others in Williamsburg, the Outer Banks, N.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., according to the Captain George’s website. The Virginia Beach location, opened in 1982, is the flagship and a popular tourist destination.
In 1998 in Pennsylvania, Pitsilides pleaded no contest to conspiracy, and prosecutors withdrew 49 additional bookmaking and conspiracy charges, according to court documents from Schuylkill County, Pa. Authorities at the time said the charges were in connection to a $25 million-a-year gambling operation, according to a report in The Virginian-Pilot.
Pitsilides did not want to comment, Broccoletti said. He plans to turn himself in once a court clerk processes his paperwork, he said.
“Clearly, we believe he’s innocent of any wrongdoing, and we plan to vigorously fight the charges against him,” Broccoletti said. “He has always been an outstanding member of the community, contributing a great deal to the region with his business successes.”
Kathy Adams, 757-222-5155, firstname.lastname@example.org
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