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Owner of 4 convenience stores charged with running gambling operation

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SALT LAKE CITY — The owner of four Salt Lake County convenience stores and nine of his employees were charged Thursday with running a gambling operation.

Saif Al-Fatlawi, 33, whose address is listed in court documents as “unknown,” was charged in 3rd District Court with engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity and money laundering, second-degree felonies; sale of a firearm to a restricted person, a third-degree felony; and gambling promotion, gambling, possession of a gambling device, and drug possession, class B misdemeanors.

Lupe Flores-Martinez, 21; Ernesto Martinez-Figueroa, 20; Foalima Siele Pule; Antwon Earl Sweat, 21; Mohamed Haji, 20; Emily Nicole Argumedo, 31; Jimskin Emilio Lucero, 20; and Jose Guadalupe Batalla-Florez, 22; are also listed in the lengthy 15-page criminal filing as defendants. Dora Arce, 22, was also charged with money laundering and gambling promotion as part of the same investigation Thursday afternoon.

In December, police began investigating possible video gambling machines in the City Corner convenience store, 4300 S. Main.

“The machines were described as similar to slot machines in Las Vegas that you pay cash to play and are paid out cash from the store if you win,” according to charging documents.

Undercover officers observed about 10 gambling machines in the store, “all located in a dark back room behind the register,” the charges state.

“(An undercover officer) said the average person would never know the existence of the gaming machines in the business unless they were told about them.”

After playing the games, an undercover officer tried to “cash out.” To do that, a store employee had the officer write his name and birthdate on a piece of paper, the charges state, and the officer was then told to come back the next day to get his money.

In a second undercover operation in December, an officer was paid directly out of the register when he cashed out and did not have to come back the next day, the charges state.

As the investigation continued, detectives learned that Al-Fatlawi owned that store and three other City Corner stores “that also contain gambling machines” at 3695 S. Redwood, 631 W. North Temple, and 218 S. 300 East, according to court documents.

On Jan. 29, officers executed search warrants on all four City Corner stores simultaneously.

“It was confirmed that every City Corner location had video gambling machines,” the charges state.

Hundreds of documents were also seized.

“Based on review of these documents it appears that the City Corner stores made very little money on actual merchandise and the majority of the money was made from the gambling proceeds,” the charging documents allege.

Al-Fatlawi, Martinez-Figueroa and Flores-Martinez would make daily rounds, collecting cash from each of the stores, the charges say.

Investigators also reported finding a gun in the safe of the Murray store that appeared to be “passed from person to person based on whoever is working.”

While serving a search warrant at a downtown apartment, one of the suspects tried to get rid of two firearms by dropping them out a fifth-story window, according to the charges. One gun hit the ground just as a pedestrian walked by. The pedestrian reacted by running away.

Martinez-Figueroa is also accused of running a “drug dealing business” on the side, selling marijuana, THC cartridges and cocaine, according to the charges.