After the bust, Seven Mile Casino reopened on December 30, 2015
  • After the bust, Seven Mile Casino reopened on December 30, 2015
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Over 20 defendants and their attorneys packed the San Diego federal court house on April 18. Charges for the defendants and their businesses ranged from alleged illegal bookmaking, illegal money-laundering, prostitution, and “failure to maintain an anti-money-laundering program.”

A two-year-long probe by the FBI resulted in extensive raids on December 9, 2015. A U.S. Attorney’s press release from that time explained, “More than 200 agents from the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and the IRS plus San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies and investigators from the California Department of Justice bureau of Gambling Control served five search warrants and 22 seizure warrants in Chula Vista, San Diego and elsewhere. The search and seizure locations included the Village Club Card Room, also known as Seven Mile Casino in Chula Vista, and the Palomar Card Club in San Diego.”

According to the news release, several defendants allegedly operated unlicensed casinos out of Rancho Santa Fe mansions. Millions of dollars in proceeds from the gambling activity were laundered through the Palomar and Village Club card rooms, Las Vegas casinos, bank accounts, shell companies, and a bail-bonds business.

Out of the 25 defendants initially charged, 3 have now pleaded guilty.

On April 18, the owner of the Seven Mile Casino, Harvey Souza, and Naseem Salem, general manager of the Palomar Card Club, were among the defendants in court.

As the Reader reported on April 15, the Palomar Club’s license has been revoked.

Subsequent to publication, Eric Petosky of the California Gambling Control Commission said, "Both the cardroom and the owners have Interim Renewal Licenses (granted last November). The CA Gambling Control Commission referred the case to an Administrative Procedures Act hearing, but there has not been a hearing date scheduled to my knowledge."

Judge Marilyn Huff presided over the courtroom on April 18. Huff called the case “complex” and said it was too soon to set a reasonable trial date.

A status conference for discovery was set for June 20 and a motion hearing on October 17.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan A. Saucedo told Huff that the government was still wending its way though over 1000 wiretaps and 1000 documents and expects an additional batch to be finished in early May.

San Diego attorney Michael Pancer is representing the Village Cardroom (aka Seven Mile Casino) and Souza. In an April 21 statement to the Reader, Pancer said, “Mr. Souza successfully ran cardrooms in Chula Vista for over 45 years. Up until this time he never had a problem and was considered a real asset to the Chula Vista community. He was active in community affairs and well-liked with nothing but the best relationship with law enforcement. We are hopeful for a good resolution in this case so he can continue to be an asset to that community.”

Patty Chavez

Pancer’s comments conform to a Chula Vista Star-News article that ran shortly after Souza’s indictment, titled “Card room owner deals in generosity,”

Mayor Cheryl and county supervisor Greg Cox

Patty Chavez, director of South Bay Community Services’ communications department, told the Star-News "she didn’t know Souza very well but the interactions she’s had with him were mainly about how he could help South Bay Community Services. 'Throughout the years he’s helped with the domestic violence shelter and he’s helped with Mi Escuelita and he’s donated to our foster youth program.'”

Former Chula Vista mayor Cheryl Cox also praised Souza. The article said Cox, who previously worked as a consultant for Souza ”doesn’t know what to think about Souza’s money laundering charge but says that she still supports him.”

In addition to Souza’s philanthropy, "Cox said Souza’s two biggest community contributions come from the revenue he generates for the city and the number of jobs he brings to Chula Vista."

However, county supervisor Greg Cox, spouse to Cheryl Cox, returned Souza’s (and his wife Bette’s) campaign contributions. The campaign disclosures for the Friends of Greg Cox for Supervisor 2016, filed during the last filing period, show that Harvey Souza’s $745.25 non-monetary contribution and Bette Souza’s $745.25 non-monetary contributions from June 3, 2015, were returned.

Update 5/30/2018: Charges against Naseem Salem were dismissed in October of 2017.

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Visduh April 21, 2016 @ 8:26 p.m.

Is this going to be a reprise of the So County school district scandals? Federal judge Marilyn Huff is already setting the stage for a series of delays that recall those of local judge Ana Espana's lengthy holdup in the school cases. Will Huff also go wobbly on these miscreants in a manner suggesting what we saw when the school "trustee" cases came up for trial? The parallels are many and disconcerting.

And Michael Pancer is back. Back from what I cannot determine. He had the dubious distinction of being Roger Hedgecock's attorney in the political corruption case involving Nancy Hoover and the J. David (Dominelli) Ponzi scheme. Pancer didn't do so well with Rogah's case. He only "won" in the sense that a lone holdout spared Hedgecock from conviction the first time around. Later on, the DA got his conviction, and old Rog' was out, out, out of office.

It looks as if the Coxes are about to retire from politics. Greg terms out, and the wife is no longer mayor. At their ages, it's time to quit. But is there more to consider? Both are distancing themselves from Souza at the same time they "support" him. Politicians, especially those in So County are always a scream.


Susan Luzzaro April 22, 2016 @ 8:30 a.m.

Visduh, regarding the court room situation--it is already unwieldly. As mentioned the room was packed with defendants and attorneys; imagine co-ordinating all those calendars, let alone all the evidence that is still to come. There was mention of separating out some of the defendants.

That's interesting about Pancer. Local history is fascinating...Thanks


VigilantinCV April 22, 2016 @ 9:22 a.m.

Cheryl and Greg Cox are an enigma. Cheryl buys Sea World stock. Then Greg pays a $3,000 fine because of his Sea World vote on the Coastal Commission. Now Cheryl says she does not see anything wrong with what Harvey Souza did. Then Greg returns over $1,500 of non-monetary contributions. Oh, what a tangled web we weave! Far from the Cox's thinking about retiring, I think Cheryl is getting ready to make another run for Mayor of Chula Vista.


Ponzi April 22, 2016 @ 9:52 a.m.

Pancer built his practice representing local mafia, mobsters, drug dealers and money launderers. Like Carmine "Lillo" Galante, Fred Mendoza (narco trafficking/money laundering), Derek Galanis (ties to Gambino crime family), Douglas Powanda (Peregrine swindle), Ralph Inzunza (political corruption), Roger Hedgecock (political corruption), Rene Martin Verdugo-Urquidez (narco trafficking) and many more.


oskidoll April 22, 2016 @ 1:35 p.m.

If memory serves,(and sometimes it fails me) I think Pancer may have been the lawyer for Larry Remer and/or Serafin Zasueta in the Federal Case against them for orchestrating the illegal taking of public money (Southwestern College) to pay for production of a commercial supporting the college's bond measure. Remer and Zasueta pleaded out after a hung jury in Remer's trial, paying fines as I recall.


anniej April 24, 2016 @ 10:51 p.m.

oskidoll - is this the same Remer allegedly associated with the recent unsanctioned telephone survey taking the pulse for yet another SUHSD BOND?

****while the survey was not sanctioned/authorized by the SUHSD Board, it appears Ms. Hall thought using the questionable results might be a good idea - ?????????????


oskidoll April 25, 2016 @ 11:08 a.m.

anniej - I have no information or knowledge about what Larry Remer has been doing recently, only that he was a well-known and often-hired bond consultant for school districts seeking to pass bond measures.


eastlaker April 25, 2016 @ 6:53 a.m.

I really have to wonder that the city of Chula Vista really welcomed this business, when it looks rather clear that the lapses in their internal controls would allow all sorts of shady money maneuvers. Why promote that? Why support that? Why allow it to be brought into neighborhoods?

For the same reason Chula Vista's southwest sector has the only parole office in the county? Is someone trying to use this part of town as a textbook case for undermining a societal group?

Because no matter how hard I try, I really can't figure out why Chula Vista's civic leaders do not see the damage they do.

Are they senseless, soulless and mindless as well?


oskidoll April 25, 2016 @ 11:35 a.m.

Here comes the South Bay Community Services outfit popping up again, this time with their spokesperson attempting to distance the organization from any negative publicity associated with card club donations. Seems like every has-been, still-is and/or wannabe politico or developer is either on the board of directors or a sponsor of the annual 'gala' event. The SBCS seems like a very complex nexus of local politics and influence-peddlers.


eastlaker April 25, 2016 @ 1:57 p.m.

You got that right!

Does anyone know why that bunch has had difficulties verifying those who participate in the before and after school programs? Because the last I heard, their contract with Sweetwater was renewed even though they had no verifiable data that they were handling the students they say they were.


oskidoll April 25, 2016 @ 2:14 p.m.

You bring up an interesting point, again, Eastlaker. How many times do the taxpayers need to ask the questions before any real information is provided? A slippery bunch at SBCS, with top staff of highly-compensated folks.


joepublic April 25, 2016 @ 5:17 p.m.

District Attorney at the time, Paul Pfingst, made a good point back 1998 when he spoke against card room expansion in Chula Vista. He argued,  "Because there is a large volume of dollars running through the same person, the opportunity for money laundering and other types of things are more present."  Maybe it's time for the city to revisit and change the gambling ordinance to permit only small, low stakes venues that would satisfy the desire of locals who simply enjoy a good card game, but without the potential big-time problems we're reading about. 


eastlaker April 29, 2016 @ 11:55 a.m.

Of course you are correct, but there is such an air of desperation about Chula Vista's city government that those responsible are unlikely to do anything. It seems that the business interests rather like the idea of "warm bodies" occupying positions, because they are never challenged.


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