Crime

Tri-City gambler charged with theft, money laundering

Michael Lee Brooks, 53, left, who has been charged with first-degree theft and 10 counts of money laundering, appeared recently in Franklin County Superior Court with his defense attorney John Jensen, center.
Michael Lee Brooks, 53, left, who has been charged with first-degree theft and 10 counts of money laundering, appeared recently in Franklin County Superior Court with his defense attorney John Jensen, center. Tri-City Herald

A high roller at two Tri-City casinos is accused of skirting financial reporting requirements by frequently cashing in $9,900 in winnings and pocketing the rest of his gaming chips.

Michael Lee Brooks of Kennewick also is alleged to have stiffed a Reno casino out of $50,000 by giving it authorization to withdraw money from his bank accounts, then blocking the payments and moving the cash around.

Brooks, 53, has pleaded innocent in Franklin County Superior Court to one count of first-degree theft and 10 counts of money laundering, all felonies.

His trial is set for July 20.

Deputy Prosecutor Teddy Chow said the money laundering charges apply under Washington state law because Brooks designed the transactions to avoid a currency transaction report.

Financial institutions in the United States are required to file with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network a report for each deposit, withdrawal, exchange or other payment involving a transaction in currency of more than $10,000.

Brooks is owner of Brooks Custom Homes Inc. of Kennewick. Online state records show his business license is active.

He appeared in court earlier this month on a summons, and remains free on his personal recognizance.

Court documents show that Mark Richart, a Washington State Gambling Commission agent, investigated Brooks’ gambling activity back to January 2011.

“I recognize Brooks’ behavior to be unusual for the gambling industry and consistent with that of structuring,” Richart wrote.

He noted that “structuring is the process of breaking up a currency transaction,” or an amount greater than $10,000, into multiple smaller transactions in an attempt to prevent required reporting by a financial institution, which can include a casino.

Richart said that “player tracker records” from Crazy Moose Casino of Pasco and Coyote Bob’s Roadhouse Casino of Kennewick show that over a three-year period, Brooks “converted $2,186,742 in cash to gaming chips in increments of less than $10,000.”

During that same time period, Brooks had actual cash loss of $1,048,668, the documents said.

Richart cited a number of incidents in which Brooks allegedly cashed out $9,900 in chips at the Pasco casino and walked away with unredeemed stacks. That amount ranged from $1,900 to $17,700, the court documents said.

On one occasion in January 2013, Brooks had another customer cash out $9,800 in gaming chips for him while he separately redeemed $9,900, documents said. Brooks then allegedly gave members of the dealing staff $5,625 in gaming chips as gratuity.

Richart also reported that there were times Brooks would show up at the casino with his own gaming chips and redeem them. Sometimes he proceeded to play, and other times he left with the cash, Richart said.

Brooks used to be a regular at Eldorado Resort Casino in Reno where he filled out a marker, or a promise to pay by giving the business authorization to withdraw from two of his bank accounts.

After Brooks failed to cover an outstanding $50,000 debt, the Eldorado tapped into one of his accounts to collect, said Deputy Prosecutor Chow.

Brooks told his bank that it was a fraudulent and unauthorized withdrawal, and asked them to stop the payment and return his money to the account, Chow said.

Court documents show Brooks moved that $50,000 to a personal account in another financial institution, then withdrew amounts between $3,000 and $5,000 over seven weeks “to conceal the proceeds of the theft.”

Richart and Chow said the $50,000 was considered “the proceeds of a specified unlawful activity” because even though Brooks stopped the payment, he legitimately owed that amount and it rightfully was the property of the Reno casino.

Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531, @KristinMKraemer

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