Fall River councilor protests seizures

His Web cafes are closed by the state

By Vivian Ho
Globe Correspondent / April 2, 2011

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Councilor Leo O. Pelletier of Fall River says he is being unfairly targeted by the state attorney general, who has launched an investigation into alleged gambling at two of his Internet cafes.

“I don’t think it’s fair to single out my two cafes just because I’m the councilor,’’ he said last night. “I feel like there are many more. There have at least 10 or more of these places that have popped up.’’

He said that on Thursday officials from Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office searched Pelletier’s cafes in Fairhaven and Fall River, which go by the name of Leo’s Place, he said. The actions were based on a number of complaints the office has recently received, said Melissa Karpinsky, a spokeswomen for Coakley.

The attorney general’s office is also investigating a location in Chicopee that Pelletier does not own, he said.

Pelletier said Coakley is looking into the legality of the online sweepstakes games in his cafes. Customers play the games by purchasing Internet time. The cafes offer 24 games that operate like slot machines, where images are rolled around other images or numbers. If they match, the customer earns points redeemable for cash.

Those games have a cash limit of $5,000 for total winnings in one sitting. When a player wins cash, cafe attendants report the winnings to the federal and state governments, Pelletier said.

He added that when he began the businesses — he opened the Fall River location in July and the Fairhaven location in January — he was forthright about operating the sweepstakes games.

“On the business permit, I spelled it out for them: New England Internet café and sweepstakes; that was for Fairhaven,’’ he said. “Fall River, it was put ‘New England Internet café and business center.’ ’’

On Thursday, authorities executed search warrants and took away all the equipment necessary to keep the businesses running. They also froze the cafes’ assets, forcing Pelletier to temporarily close them, he said.

He said he believes the attorney general is treating him particularly harshly because he is a city councilor.

Pelletier said he thinks it is necessary for the Coakley’s office to make a sound determination on the legality of the sweepstakes games. If they deem them illegal, he said he will comply with the law and stop offering the games. He does not, however, believe he should face jail time because the games were not illegal when he first began operating them.

“I don’t think I should be punished because the state has not made a determination one way or another,’’ he said. “How can I be penalized if the determination was not made? If it was made and I opened up and I ran it, then of course, I should get locked up and arrested, but I think it should be noted that I have not been arrested.’’

Vivian Ho can be reached at