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February 26, 2014

'Operation Liberty Bell' ends in 7 arrests

BERRIEN COUNTY —

'Operation Liberty Bell' ends in 7 arrests

Seven people were arrested and nine properties were seized Wednesday in connection with an almost three-year investigation targeting gambling in four South Georgia counties. 

Dubbed Operation Liberty Bell, the investigation was conducted throughout the past 31 months. A total of 18 criminal warrants were issued against the following individuals: Nilesh S. Patel (AKA Neal Patel), Bhagavatiben N. Patel, Bhavinkumar Maheshbai Joshi (AKA Bobby Joshi), Steven Maurise Meadors Jr., Austin Hughes Woods, Rajendrakumar K. Patel (AKA Raj Patel) and Dharmistaben R. Patel (AKA Tina Patel).

Charges include commercial gambling, conspiracy to commit commercial gambling, keeping a gambling place, communication of gambling information and solicitation of another to gamble. In addition, a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) action has been filed by Alapaha Judicial Circuit District Attorney Dick Perryman's office seeking to seize assets, property and proceeds from the alleged illegal gambling operations.

Official documents allege that Nilesh Patel and multiple other individuals profited illegally from coin-operated machines. In addition, the documents state that multiple individuals, led by Patel, operated a RICO enterprise and multiple corporations whose sole purpose was illegal gambling, and the hiding and laundering of the profits of those efforts. 

The operations were carried out in multiple counties, including Lanier, Lowndes, Berrien and Clinch, and produced millions of dollars each year.

More than 40 agents, investigators and deputy sheriffs launched the raids. One location each in Berrien and Clinch counties were searched, three locations in Lowndes County, and four in Lanier.

Additional charges are possible.

To contact editor Angye Morrison, call 382-4321.

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