Originally created 01/08/98

Condon denies role in video poker raid

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- State Attorney General Charlie Condon is not targeting South Carolina's video-gaming king, and was not behind a raid on two Greenville warehouses and the confiscation of almost 200 machines, Mr. Condon's spokesman says.

Fred Collins' lawyer accused Mr. Condon of directing a "witch hunt" against the largest owner of video-gaming machines in the state. Mr. Collins has not been charged.

Mr. Condon's office was not contacted by the State Law Enforcement Division until the day after the Dec. 22 raid on Mr. Collins' operations, spokesman Robb McBurney said Tuesday night. SLED Chief Robert Stewart called for legal advice, Mr. McBurney said.

Chief Stewart would not comment, saying the investigation is ongoing.

Mr. Collins is fighting a magistrate's order to destroy the 192 confiscated machines. Chief Stewart said after the raid that the Cherry Master and 8-Liners were illegal slot machines and that possession of them was illegal.

In a letter to prosecutor Bob Ariail, Mr. Collins' lawyer accused Mr. Condon of calling for the raids. The cover letter was included among court papers filed Tuesday by lawyer Russell Ghent.

"I do believe that a patrician, elitist elected official is conducting a witch hunt to destroy a selfmade man," Mr. Ghent told The Greenville News.

"We could not sit idly by and watch this man's reputation be trashed," Mr. Ghent said.

Along with Mr. Ghent's appeal of Magistrate Diane Cagle's order to destroy the confiscated machines were:

A motion to suppress all evidence recovered in the SLED raids.

Sworn statements from Mr. Collins' employees regarding a SLED agent's conduct. They say the agent prevented a lawyer for Mr. Collins from explaining how a machine worked as Judge Cagle surveyed the warehouse. The affidavits also say a second SLED agent later apologized about the first agent's conduct.

A motion to name the informant who tipped off SLED.

Mr. Ariail said he had not seen the filings, but was curious why there would be pretrial motions before criminal charges were brought. Mr. Ghent said authorities had initiated proceedings through the raids.

"We believe that we have a basis to at least move to suppress the evidence. If the position of the state is `We don't intend to prosecute,' then fine," he said.

Mr. Ghent contends the machines are not illegal slot machines and thatevidence seized as a result of unconstitutional searches. The first search warrant was insufficient to establish probable cause for the raid, and the initial undercover search by two SLED agents was unconstitutional, he said.


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