Gambling ringleader pleads to small fine, gets machines back

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News has learned a high profile gambling case originally billed as a racketeering operation, has now been dropped.
 

Instead, prosecutors allowed the ringleader to plead guilty to one misdemeanor and face no jail time.
 
GBI agents arrested James Kokott for racketeering in March 2012, after raiding seven of his Big Dawg internet cafes.
 
At the time, they touted his operation as a $3 million gambling enterprise.
 
Shortly after the raids, DeKalb County Chief Assistant District Attorney Nicole Marchand told Channel 2 Action News, "The state will not stand for this type of activity. It's a very big deal. Millions of dollars have been funneled through this illegal operation."
 
But two years later, prosecutors have a different view.
 
"Our concern is we've got to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 jurors," said Chris Timmons, who prosecuted the case.
 
Kokott showed prosecutors a written legal opinion saying his operation wasn't criminal. His attorney told Channel 2 Action News he sought that opinion, asked the Georgia Attorney General's office, and even a judge in Dougherty County prior to opening. The opinions were not definitive.
 
"When you look at a case like that, while all the investigation that was done was done well, the concern is that if a jury sees a letter from an attorney that says what they were doing was legal, it's going to be difficult to recover from that," Timmons said.
 
Kokott had already avoided prison time in a Florida case after his arrest for racketeering in a nearly identical business practice there.
 
In the Georgia case, agents seized computers and cash at seven locations.
   
Prior to the raids, Channel 2 Action News had already sent a camera in undercover, to show how customers could buy calling cards then use in-store electronic gambling machines which promised big payouts.
 
Kokott ended up pleading guilty to misdemeanor possession of a gambling machine.
 
His sentence included one year on probation, however that probation ends once he pays a $1,000 fine.
 
Prosecutors even returned 50 of Kokott's unused gambling machines found still in their packaging and $250,000 seized from his bank accounts.
  
Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer asked Timmons if he worried whether Kokott might try to reopen.
 
"Absolutely not," Timmons replied, "And if he does we're coming for him."
 
He says since the 2012 raids, Georgia passed a new law to clarify that this kind of operation is a crime.
  
Prosecutors did have Kokott forfeit 20 gambling machines that were in use during the raids and about $24,000 in cash.  



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