Three Hawaii men were apprehended recently on the Pacific island paradise for alleged illegal gambling and drug trafficking. The two-year investigation involved 50 officers from the FBI and the Maui Police Department.
During a search, authorities seized $68,000, 15 pounds of suspected methamphetamine, seven firearms, 20 gambling machines, gambling ledgers, tablets, and a money counter, officials said.
Numerous illegal gambling rooms were discovered by authorities in Hawaii. Locations for illicit activities were identified as Sports Bar & Grill in Waianae and sites at 980 and 977 Queens Street in Honolulu. Two snack shops, one in Lahaina and the other in Wailuku, were also identified.
One of the locations allegedly employed a gambling app.
“You would go in, you would buy credits on the app… You could play there, you could take the app and play elsewhere, and go cash in,” Kenneth Sorenson, chief of the Criminal Division at the Hawaii US Attorney’s Office, was quoted by Maui Now, an online news site.
The gambling joints were in operation ’round the clock for over 30 days. They earned gross revenue of at least $2,000 on any single day, authorities said.
The gambling enterprise had the advantage of operating under the venile of being apparent legitimate businesses,” Sorenson said. “In truth and fact, the businesses were fronts for illegal gaming locations that utilized gaming machines and sophisticated gambling apps that facilitated off premises gambling.”
The seized firearms included two “ghost guns.” These are purchased online, assembled after purchase, and cannot be traced.
Other seized firearms include: a .25 caliber loaded Beretta handgun, a Winchester 12-gauge shotgun, and a Remington 20-gauge shotgun. Also recovered were 25 caliber rounds and shotgun rounds.
Trio Faces Lengthy Sentences
Maliu Tauheluhelu, 37, Maafu Pani, also 37, and Touanga Niu, 21, were arrested on June 3 due to the inquiry. The three suspects appeared in Hawaii federal court this week.
In an indictment, Tauheluhelu was accused of leading the criminal organization that distributed meth and cocaine and participated in illegal gambling.
Pani additionally oversaw drug trafficking and illegal gambling on Maui, the indictment said. He was described by authorities as “Tauheluhelu’s chief lieutenant.”
Niu allegedly assisted with the transportation of drugs on flights from Oahu to Maui. They were flown “on an airline for which there was no Transportation Security Administration [TSA] screening,” court documents said. The airline was later identified as Mokulele Airlines.
A fourth suspect, Desmond Morris, 38, was named in the indictment, too. As of earlier this week, he had yet to be apprehended.
Tauheluhelu is charged with conspiracy to distribute meth, possession with intent to distribute meth, conspiracy to operate an illegal gambling enterprise, and conspiracy to launder drug proceeds.
Pani is charged with conspiracy to distribute meth, possession with intent to distribute meth, seven counts of distribution of meth, and a single count each of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a felony drug offense, conspiracy to operate an illegal gambling enterprise, and conspiracy to launder drug proceeds.
Niu is charged with conspiracy to distribute meth and possession with intent to distribute meth. Morris will be charged with conspiracy with intent to distribute meth.
The defendants, if convicted, could face many years, if not decades, of incarceration.
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