City seeking ‘kingpins’ of Excelsior gambling shacks

Supervisor John Avalos held a City Hall hearing Thursday on illegal gambling dens in the Excelsior neighborhood he represents. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

Residents and law enforcement officers have been busy in the Excelsior neighborhood trying to thwart gambling shacks and blighted buildings as the community remains relatively untouched by San Francisco’s economic and development boom roaring in other parts of town.

Supervisor John Avalos, who represents the area, zeroed in on these quality-of-life issues facing his constituents during a hearing Thursday at the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee. The purpose was to call attention to the issues, improve coordination among city departments and examine new tactics.

Some of the most interesting testimony came from Police Capt. Joseph McFadden of the Ingleside Police District station and Assistant District Attorney Archie Wong over their efforts to kick the illegal gambling shack industry out of the neighborhood for good. Such illegal businesses are also being blamed for attracting crime to the area.

McFadden said it takes them several months to make cases against these illegal businesses and then, when the raids occur, they are mostly citing people with misdemeanors. The businesses tend to close down then reopen in any of the many other empty storefronts along the Mission Street corridor, and the police work must begin all over again.

“You’re looking for the bigger kingpins in it, the people that are handling the money,” McFadden said of the illegal operations. “You want to catch the main guys. That’s the toughest part, getting the nexus and the evidence to identify that particular person. They are very intricate in stopping that.”

Wong called the crackdown on the illegal gambling shacks a top priority and announced there are efforts underway. “It is very important, obviously, to have a long-term solution to shutting down these shacks. … It is important to find out who the owners and operators truly are,” Wong said. “You have to follow the money. You have to go upstream.”

To do so, Wong is coordinating efforts with the Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In the meantime, McFadden said his department, in working with the City Attorney’s code enforcement team and the District Attorney’s Office, has become more efficient in shutting down locations, which “relies on gathering the evidence together, making a plan and then eventually raiding it.”

In one case, there were more than 200 police calls about a specific location before it was closed, but in another, there were 22. He said there are investigations into “several” locations.

“We are knocking them down sooner rather than later,” McFadden said. “When I first came in, there were some places that took upwards from four to eight years to close down. We are doing it in a matter of months.”

David Hooper, a Mission Terrace resident, said the real solution is to boost economic vitality of the Mission corridor. “These vacant properties bring in the opportunities” for the illegal gambling activity, he said.

“As time rolls on, some of the ‘economic vitality’ that is in the Mission district is going to come our way,” Hooper said.

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