After a four-year investigation, Burlington, North Carolina, Police charged two men and have warrants drawn on a third in connection to a "butter and egg" lottery operation.
Police seized more than $6,000 Friday evening as well as a shotgun, illegal lottery tickets and several grams of cocaine and marijuana, according to a Burlington Police Department news release.
Police say they have charged mid-level participants in the illegal gambling operation that used to be considered a "poor man's lottery," although evidence gathered during the investigation indicates that is no longer the case, said Burlington Police Sgt. Teddy Somers.
"You'd never believe the places in this town it's happening in," said Somers who added that people with various socio-economic backgrounds play the illegal lottery.
Somers started his investigation in 2003, following the shooting of Wallace Hightower, 64, of 227 Howard St. At the time, Hightower was the victim of an armed robbery and was shot in the abdomen at a residence on Foster Street. He recovered from his injuries and police discovered that he was allegedly involved in an illegal gambling operation.
At the time of the 2003 shooting, police allege that Hightower was doing payouts for that day's butter and egg lottery winners and was robbed. Police worked to find the armed robber and began doing surveillance to uncover the gambling operation.
In March 2004, Barry Wade Ryan, of Foster Street, was sentenced to 18 to 22 months for his role in the robbery and assault against Hightower. Ryan entered an Alford plea in Alamance County Superior Court, which means he did not admit to wrongdoing, although he did accept a plea bargain, according to a Times-News report.
Somers started watching the 327 Foster St. residence, noting who went in and out and recorded license tag numbers. At some point in his investigation, he determined the Foster Street house was what police refer to as a "drop house" for the lottery.
"We were trying to piece it together to see who was involved," Somers said.
The lottery operates this way: People who want to play write their numbers down on a ticket along with what they want to bet. The money and ticket is given to a runner. Players can bet as little as a quarter on a number and the runner makes a quarter per ticket. If the ticket wins, the runner gets a cut, Somers explained.
The winning numbers are based on the opening or closing number of the stock market. Somers thinks that the last three numbers of the stock market's closing numbers are what were used in this lottery.
Once the runner collects all the money and tickets, it's all put in an envelope and slipped under the door of the drop house by 3:30 p.m. before the stock market closes at 4 p.m. The person in the drop house keeps track of the money and bets in a ledger. The money is then brought to what police refer to as a "count house," Somers said.
Police allege that Wallace Hightower's Howard Street residence was the count house in the operation and his son, Orlando Hightower, 44, owns the drop house on Foster Street.
At about 7 p.m. Friday, police had enough information to stop Robert Lee King, 67, of Lakeside Avenue, Burlington, as he approached the drop house on Foster Street. Somers stopped King at the door and told him about the information he's been gathering for the last several years.
"He had in his possession white envelopes with money in them," Somers said.
King was charged with possession of number tickets, selling number tickets and illegal gambling, which are all misdemeanors. He was released on a written promise to appear, Somers said.
Somers then approached Orlando Hightower and got permission to search the Foster Street house.
"Evidence seized at the scene included 15 grams of cocaine, 12.5 grams of marijuana, $2,012 in a cash, a .410 shotgun and gambling numbers tickets," according to the release.
Orlando Hightower was charged with possession of number tickets, selling number tickets, illegal gambling, possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine, manufacture cocaine, maintain a dwelling for cocaine sales, possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana, manufacturing cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was placed in Alamance County jail under $30,000 bond, according to the release.
The information from Orlando Hightower's arrest led authorities back to Wallace Hightower.
Police searched his Howard Street home and seized $4,059 in cash and gambling number tickets, according to the release.
Warrants were drawn against Wallace Hightower charging him with possession of number tickets, selling number tickets and illegal gambling. He was supposed to turn himself into authorities Saturday, which he hadn't done by 5:30 p.m., Somers said.
While the arrests were a long time coming, it's just the beginning and the investigation is continuing, Somers said.
Police think that more than 450 people are involved in running, and Orlando and Wallace Hightower are only the middle tier of an operation that could yield much more money than police have already confiscated.
"This is just a drop in the bucket for what they could be doing," said Burlington Police Staff Sgt. Brett Taylor.