The president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners and a deputy sheriff were charged today, along with 15 others, with violating state gambling laws in connection with the illegal use of electronic video poker games.
The misdemeanor charges stemmed from a grand jury probe of what the county prosecutor has called a million-dollar-a-year enterprise in which bettors received illegal cash payoffs from the electronic games. Legalized slot machine gambling flourished here for two decades but was outlawed in 1968.
Marland Deen, a Democrat serving his first term as commission president, was charged with possessing and operating three illegal video poker machines at Deen's Little Store, a country store he owns in nearby Waldorf with his brother Wayne, who was also charged. Deen could not be reached for comment.
The list of persons charged also included two other prominent Charles County names -- deputy sheriff John T. Hindle and John L. Sprague, the brother of state delegate Michael Sprague (D-Charles Co.).
Hindle was charged with operating a machine at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge in La Plata. Sprague, who was charged with possession of an illegal machine, was further accused of obstructing justice and attempting to "suborn perjury," according to papers filed in court.
Assistant State Prosecutor Gerald Ruter, who was called in to work with Charles County State's Attorney Stephen Braun, said that Sprague allegedly attempted to get another witness before the grand jury to lie about the income both received from the operation of the illegal machines.
Although county officials have been publicly silent, reverberations from the ongoing grand jury probe have been felt in several places.
In May, raids of several business establishments resulted in the arrest of five county residents and confiscation of more than $200,000 in illegal revenues.
Since then, three men have been convicted in the probe and another man -- the owner of one of the establishments raided -- committed suicide on the morning several of his employes had been scheduled to testify before the grand jury, according to both prosecutors.
As many as 150 of the popular machines were operating in the county when the probe began, according to Braun. About 50 of them have been seized in the investigation. The rest have vanished since Braun conducted the raids in May.
Braun said that the most commonly found machine is called "Draw 80-Poker," where a customer puts in 25 cents, is dealt five cards and has an opportunity to discard and take new cards to make up a poker hand. Different hands result in the customer winning a different number of points. Generally, when a customer has 40 or more points, he can cash them in for a payoff.
It is the insertion of the coin, the element of chance in the game's outcome and the cash payoff that make it fall under the legal definition of a slot machine, according to Braun. Charges against persons have been filed under this statute.
Braun said the grand jury investigation will continue because some witnesses "have lied to the grand jury." In his press release today, Braun said, "It is clear . . . that the entire truth has not been disclosed concerning the extent of the gambling activity and other criminal acts related to and arising from this activity."
Commissioner Deen was charged in 1983 with drunken driving and possession of a handgun. But both charges were dropped by St. Mary's County prosecutors, who acknowledged in open court that Deen was not guilty of either charge, according to Braun.
According to documents filed today, others charged with gambling law violations involving the machines included: William R. Warren Jr., Charles Harrison, Roscoe Marion Odle, James Joseph Pash, James A. Hayden, Rona Hayden, David William Hayden, Dudley Thomas Robey Jr., Dennis R. Conner, Robert Edward Tressler and Michael W. Meissner.
Two other men were charged with violating gambling laws by betting on professional football games.