Eight Miami residents have plead guilty to various federal charges in an embezzlement scheme that led to the theft of $5.3 million from the tribal Miccosukee Resort & Gaming property, according to court documents.
Four of the defendants — Michel Aleu, Lester Lavin, Yohander Jorrin Melhen, and Leonardo Betancourt, all ex-employees of Miccosukee Gaming, pled guilty to conspiracy to steal funds in excess of $1,000 from Miccosukee Gaming, conspiracy to commit computer fraud, and money laundering conspiracy, Miami US Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan announced on Tuesday.
Their spouses, Maria Del Pilar Aleu, Anisleydi Vergel Hermida, and Milagros Marile Acosta Torres, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering offenses. Yohander Jorrin Melhen and Milagros Acosta Torres entered guilty pleas last week.
The defendants allegedly used the money to acquire or pay for upkeep of residences, investment properties, vehicles, boats, as well as pay for vacations and put money in college savings plans.
Between 2011 and 2015, Michel Aleu, Lavin, Jorrin Melhen, Betancourt, and other conspirators — who worked in the video game section at the casino — allegedly tampered with computers found in electronic gaming machines. That led to the machines generating false credit vouchers, the US Attorney’s office said. Other defendants allegedly exchanged the vouchers for cash at ATMs located on the casino floor, at floor cashiers, or at the casino treasury, the US Attorney added.
Defendants Face Up To 20 Years’ Incarceration
When US District Judge Darrin P. Gayles sentences each defendant in Miami federal court in upcoming weeks, he/she could face up to 20 years’ imprisonment for money laundering conspiracy.
Michel Aleu, Lavin, Jorrin Melhen, and Betancourt also face maximum terms of five years for conspiracy to steal from Miccosukee Gaming and conspiracy to commit computer fraud.
Miccosukee Employees Allegedly Faked Repairs
The Miami Herald reported the four casino employees would pretend an electronic gaming machine (EGM) needed to be repaired. Once the machine was open, the employee would connect a wire to a port on the machine’s mother board, the Herald said.
“The perpetrator would then attach the other end of the wire to a metal surface inside the EGM, causing the EGM to generate and record false ‘coin-in’ amounts totaling thousands of dollars,” court documents quoted by the Herald said. The machine would then generate “false credit vouchers for ‘coin in’ amounts and would present the vouchers to Miccosukee Gaming, in exchange for cash.”
The spouses opened numerous bank accounts and they deposited and withdrew the ill-gotten money like with “a shell game,” the Herald said.
A 63-count indictment against the eight was filed last July by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. Beyond the US Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the Miccosukee Police Department took part in the investigation.
The Miccosukee Resort & Gaming property, located some 20 miles west of downtown Miami in the Everglades, is a Class II gaming property. It features bingo, poker, and more than 2,000 electronic gaming machines.
The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida is the only other Native American group, along with the Seminole Tribe, that operates gaming in the Sunshine State.
The Miccosukee tribe has been described as “fiercely independent and quick to assert its sovereign rights.”