Harris County DA dismisses felony charges against poker club operators, citing conflicts of interest

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Multiple conflicts of interest between state and local officials and Houston private poker clubs has led to the collapse of two criminal cases and a reexamination of the relationships between elected officials and the game room operators, the Houston Chronicle reported.

In dismissing state charges of money laundering, gambling promotion and organized crime against nine employees of the Prime Social and Post Oak poker clubs, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg forwarded information on those cases to the FBI.

Ogg cited conflicts of interest between targets of the investigation and individuals in her office, including Amir Mireskandari, who works as a financial crimes consultant for the DA’s office and has also been lobbying on behalf of Prime Social as it seeks legitimacy from elected officials and law enforcement, the newspaper reported.

Mireskandari has also worked as a Democratic fundraiser and adviser for a number of local elected officials and candidates, including donating to their campaigns, the Chronicle reported.

Ogg told the newspaper that the conflicts of interest included donations from the poker room operators to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia and the courting of Mayor Sylvester Turner by Primal Social co-owners Brandon Jimenez and David Nguyen in a Dec. 18, 2018, business meeting.

“It was pretty clear, based on the texts I read of the owner-operators talking about Ken Paxton, Adrian Garcia, Mayor Turner, that they were trying to somehow get authorization to proceed with their business plan,” Ogg said.

Dozens of poker clubs have sprung up in Harris County in recent years, with owners arguing their business model of collecting membership dues and seat fees rather than a rake out of each pot is legal under state law. But Harris County law enforcement officials contend the games are still illegal because the operators are profiting from the games.

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