D.C. police officers swept across the grounds of of Reithoffer Carnival in a late night raid Friday, closed down the rides and the midway and arrested the carnival's operators for running what police said were rigged and illegal games.
Crowds of carnival-goers stood beneath the multi-colored neon lights of the ferris wheel and cheered as the police moved through the carnival site, located on a vacant lot across from the old Mount Vernon Library at Ninth and L Streets NW.
"It's the first time I've ever been on a raid and the neighborhood hoodlums cheered for you," one undercover officer said. "They said, 'Yeah, take them down and show them some D.C. justice.' Once the guys realized it was rigged they where happy to see us."
For three days police undercover officers had stalked the grounds of the carnival -- one of the first to come to the District in many years -- and played many of the games themselves. They concluded that some of the games were set up so players stood no chance of winning without a bit of luck provided by the operators.
One such game, police said, was "Big Tom," in which players had to knock stuffed cats off a shelf with a rubber ball. Police said the cats were counter-weighted at the base and could be knocked over only if turned a certain way by the operator.
"You can knock that thing down all day but it won't fall off the shelf," said Detective Peter Randall, who led the raid.
Another game, "The Swinger," had hanging from a chain attached to the ceiling of a booth. The object of the game was to knock over a pin 10 times by swinging the ball back and forth. But the pin was positioned in such a way as to make it impossible to knock over the pin -- unless it was moved by the operator, police said.
Still another game, like "Crazy Ball," allowed players to bet odds on which color tin a ball would land in when rolled down a chute. Police said such betting amounted to gambling, which is illegal in the District.
Among those arrested was carnival owner Richard H. Reithoffer, a burly, 30-year-old University of Tampa graduate, who is a fourth generation carney. Reithoffer, charged with larceny by trick, was arraigned yesterday in D.C. Superior Court and released on bond.
Also arrested were John A. Campi, 63, of Miramar, Fla., the carnival's concessions manager; John M. Nolan, 28, of Cohoes, N.Y.; Mark Ross, 21, of Vandergrift, Pa.; and Kenneth Gartlano 39, of Walton, N.Y.
Police said nearly $200,000 in cash, four games, record books and seven shotguns and pistols and ammunition were confiscated.
In addition of the D.C. carnival -- the largest one in the metropolitan area -- Randall said Reithoffer is currently operating two smaller carnivals at Capital Plaza in Landover, and in Langley Park.
Police said the carnivals have steadily camped in outlying suburban areas around Washington each year. However, the Reithoffer carnival is the first to come into the District several years. Last year Reithoffer operated at Rfk Stadium.
For those who felt they had unfairly lost money at the carnival, the police raid was cause for joy. But others, including some youngsters hired through the city's antipoverty program to run games, said they had little to cheer about.
Casear Vaughan, who said he ran a booth at the carnival, said he and his friends were chased by a mob of about 50 people who demanded their money back.
"They had sticks, they were grabing them from everywhere. They robbed us of maybe $120. One reason why the people down here are like this is they don't have anything."
Kevin Hill, a youth hired to operate one of the "Crazy Ball" games, said he was aware his game was illegal. "They just recruited us. We didn't have anything to do with the planning." Hill said.
According to police, Reithoffer, Campi and the other three employes arrested spent the night in the D.C. jail before being arraigned in D.C. Superior Court yesterday morning.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Saffern said after the trial, "Defense counsel said they were moving on to Philadelphia."