The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

July 22, 2013

Internet cafe owner, two employees convicted


TARBORO — The owner of the former Past Times Internet Cafe and two of his employees were convicted in district court last Wednesday of operating an illegal electronic sweepstakes. After the ruling, their attorney appealed the verdicts to Superior Court.

District Court Judge William Farris found 66-year old Richard Conoley Chapman, who was the owner of the business, 37-year old Kwana Spruill, who was managing the business, and 35-year old Gwenette Mills guilty of the charge.

The judge ordered them to serve 30 days in jail suspended and ordered them to pay a $200 fine and court costs.

Farris also ordered that police were to return items seized during the search of the business, including the cash.

After the verdicts were read, the defendant's attorney told the judge they wanted to appeal their convictions to Superior Court. With the appeal, that means all three will have a jury trial in Superior Court.

The trio was charged after the Tarboro Police Department executed a search warrant on the business April 15 after Chapman had been warned on numerous occasions to shut the operation down.

After the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld a ban of Internet sweepstakes cafes last December, Police Chief Damon Williams said he would abide by the laws and close the establishments inside the city limits.

Past Times had originally closed their doors after the new law went into effect, but decided to reopen. That's what forced the police department to serve the search warrant.

During the search warrant, officers seized cash, computer screens, hard drives, a cash register, chalk board with recent winning amounts and other items. The top prize on the winner's board was $1,971 which had been won for 10 days prior to the search.

During the raid, WIlliams said the business didn't take them seriously and that the department wasn't going to allow anyone to publicly violate the general statutes, whether it be sweepstakes or drug dealers.

When officers entered the building, there were customers inside the business playing the sweepstakes games. The customers cooperated with law enforcement and left the establishment.

The December ruling put a stop to North Carolina's lucrative internet cafe business. Owners with large scale operations immediately fought the courts to keep their doors open when sweepstakes software companies attempted to revise the software to comply with the new law by displaying pre-reveal winners on the games.

During the fight to keep the establishments open, some internet cafe owners reopened their doors, but Williams said it was up to the discretion of the authorities in each town or county on how the wanted to handle it.

There were eight internet cafes open in Edgecombe County at the time the ruling was passed, but Past Times was the only establishment to have been raided.