An attempt to money launder over $350,000 at North Carolina’s Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino led to seven suspects being charged last week and federal officials seizing a total of $2.1 million.
According to a recently released federal indictment, two of the suspects and a third man went to the gaming property, located in Cherokee, sometime in the last year. The trio, each from South Carolina, was identified as Derick Keane and Jeremy Brandon Latourneau, both 43 and of Spartanburg, and Roosevelt Hunt of Moore.
While there, they exchanged $200,000 in checks for casino chips.
After gambling for less than two hours, (they) … cashed out from the casino and left with approximately $198,750 in cash,” federal prosecutors said.
Three days later, Keane and Latourneau returned to the same casino, the Associated Press reported. Each attempted to cash a check written for $50,000.
That raised red flags for casino staff, who refused to cash the checks given the earlier activity, the AP said. Federal officials later discovered that more than $359,000 linked to the plot was allegedly fraudulently acquired via a federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. It was earmarked for coronavirus relief.
One of the seven indicted, Christopher J. Agard, 41, of Marietta, Georgia, allegedly laundered money through his business, Wild Stylz Entertainment. In May, he applied for a PPP loan of more than $395,000. The application, which later was approved, used fraudulent documents, authorities claim.
Based on evidence collected so far, South Carolina US Attorney Peter M. McCoy, Jr., said the scheme led to the laundering of over $750,000 of fraudulently obtained money. The rest of the $2.1 million seized by the feds was indirectly related to the plot.
On Thursday, the seven suspects, either from Georgia or South Carolina, were each charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The George residents beyond Agard include Lauren Marcel Duhart, 34, of Stonecrest, Joshua Bernard Smith, 39, of McDonough, and Steve Ronald Lewis, 43, of Snellville.
Beyond Keane and Latourneau, a third man from South Carolina involved was Henry Duffield, 58, of Belton. The eighth suspect, Hunt, whose age was not immediately known, has confessed to drug conspiracy and money laundering charges under a recent plea agreement, federal officials said.
Case Began with Narcotics Investigation
The case dates to 2017. Initially, authorities were investigating illegal drug dealing. Prosecutors claim it involved “high-level heroin and methamphetamine traffickers” located in Greenville, South Carolina.
The US Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a federal program which investigates major drug violations and related money laundering, took part in the inquiry. Their investigation led to the arrest of eight other defendants on federal drug trafficking and fraud-related charges, McCoy said.
Federal agents further discovered there was associated wire fraud and money laundering allegedly taking place. Their suspicions led to Thursday’s charges, with federal officials pledging to investigate any crimes associated with misuse of coronavirus relief funds. The recent indictment marks the 50th PPP-fraud case in the US, according to the Department of Justice.
Harrah’s Protocols Halted Cashing of Checks
Also, the refusal by Harrah’s casino employees to cash the checks linked to Thursday’s charges relates to company protocols. The Harrah’s casino has a precautionary “comprehensive risk-based Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) program” in place, Fox News reported.
It prevents “casinos from being used for money laundering or other criminal activity,” a Harrah’s spokesman explained to Fox. Last December, the American Gaming Association issued new guidelines geared toward more safeguarding against money laundering inside casinos.
Casino.org reached out to Harrah’s for additional comment, but officials did not respond before publication of the story.