Judge dismisses Victoria Internet Cafe case

A Victoria judge dismissed a case in which three people were charged with running an illegal gambling operation after he found the state lost evidence that would tend to show the defendants were not guilty.

Christopher Shawn Fellows, 44, of Dacula, Ga.; Paul H. Carter Jr., 79, of Fayetteville, Ga.; and Steve Marston, 60, of Maryville, Ohio, faced charges of engaging in organized criminal activity and money laundering about or more than $200,000 while operating the Victoria Internet Cafe in 2009.

Charges remain pending against three other defendants.

The state alleged the phone cards sold at the business were a sham.

"They said air time on the phone cards was actually money to gamble with on the computer terminals that had a sweepstakes game on them," said attorney Brent Dornburg, who represented Carter.

After a search warrant was executed, the terminals were destroyed - inadvertently or on purpose, no one knows. The terminals, defense attorneys say, would have shown the phone cards were used for just that - talking on the phone. They say they also held records of customers playing the sweepstakes games for free.

"We are evaluating our options for appeal," said Laura Bean, deputy director of communications for the attorney general's office.

The state has 30 days to file an appeal.

During a January hearing about the case, Assistant Attorneys General Abbey Fowler and Harry White argued the defendants had access to names, phone numbers and addresses of thousands of customers who bought phone cards.

Christopher Tritico, a Houston-based attorney who represented Fellows, said tracking those people down and then interviewing them would have been too burdensome for the defense and not as beneficial as having the original data.

"The state, for some reason, about three weeks ago said, 'Hey, we found this additional information, so we're sending it to you and the defendants.' We took that opportunity to point that the additional information was sent five years later and is only part of the evidence; they still can't find all of it. I think that's what got the judge to grant it," Tritico said.

He also filed a motion to quash the indictment. Judge Robert C. Cheshire's granting the motion to dismiss rendered that request moot.

Tali Villafranca represented Marston. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Dornburg said one of the people operating the business was repaying a loan to Carter and that is possibly why he was implicated in these supposed crimes. Carter has never been to Victoria.

"He's very relieved. ... I couldn't imagine my client ever being convicted of anything in this case even if we had went to trial," Dornburg said.

Others accused of engaging in organized criminal activity and money laundering at the Victoria Internet Cafe are Jane Lewis, 53, of Marysville, Ohio; William Sue, 62, of Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Frank Henderson, 47, of Victoria.

Their cases are still pending and are on a June scheduling docket.