Two of 13 in poker arrests to face charges

Two of 13 in poker arrests to face charges

URBANA — Two men have been charged with misdemeanors for allegedly running a poker game raided by Champaign police in west Champaign about a month ago.

Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said she elected not to charge another 11 men and women who were present that night, most of them as patrons.

"We felt it was appropriate to address those running the illegal operation as opposed to those who may have been playing but were not aware what they were doing was illegal," Rietz said Thursday, the same day most of the poker players appeared in court only to be told they were free to go.

Her office did file charges of keeping a gambling place and running a game of chance against Brian Swinford, 41, of Hoopeston, and Scott Pettigrew, 35, of Danville, alleging they were the operators of the pay-to-play poker game. If convicted, they face a fine of up to $2,500 and a maximum 364 days in the county jail. Both are due back in court March 16.

The charges stemmed from a Jan. 11 raid on a building at 2714 Clark Road, C, that resulted from a citizen complaint.

There were 13 people present, ranging in age from 27 to 73, when police came in the unlocked door with guns drawn, an action that one of the patrons called "out of proportion" to what was going on inside.

"Here's 11 hard-working, peaceful citizens and in they come with their guns pointed at us," said Thomas Schrepfer, 64, of Urbana. "What are they doing raiding a $30 poker game with guns drawn and putting people in handcuffs, including a very nice lady who comes and cooks us a nice dinner? They cuffed her in such a way as to leave bruises and marks on her wrists. That's what got me upset."

"This is the equivalent of a speeding ticket. Do you respond to every driver who's going 75 with guns drawn," asked Schrepfer, a medical doctor who said he's played in people's garages and similar rented settings for several years.

But Champaign police Lt. Michael Paulus, who directed the raid, said police went in that way because "we don't know what's on the other side of the door."

Police had information that there might be as many as 25 people present that night, he said.

"We've been in gambling raids where there have been weapons and narcotics. Because officers are looking to be safe, we go in, secure the situation, we contain everybody where they are so we don't have anybody moving around. History has been that it's better for us to err on the side of caution," said Paulus, adding that police took a similar approach in a gambling raid two years ago in southwest Champaign.

After the room was secured, Paulus said, police went about their business in "an orderly fashion" without any yelling or screaming.

"We had a process we had to go through. We got identifiers on people, we filled out documentation, and secured property consistent with state law. People were allowed to leave. We didn't take anybody to jail," he said.

Police seized about $3,000 cash, gaming tables, cards, poker chips, ledgers and two televisions, which the state will seek to have forfeited, Rietz said.

Paulus and Rietz noted that police also found a loaded weapon in the building. And Rietz said that Swinford has a pending armed violence charge.

But Schrepfer, a medical doctor who just likes to play poker and doesn't have the room in his home to host large tournaments, said he took exception to having a gun pointed at him and cash taken from his wallet. He said he was lucky that he had only $18 on him.

"Someone on the city council needs to know that people's lives were put at risk with guns drawn. How many more times do you pay million-dollar settlements when guns go off when they're not supposed to?" Schrepfer said, referring to the October 2009 accidental shooting of Kiwane Carrington, 15, of Champaign, by a police officer.

Rietz said Schrepfer and the others in attendance need to take their complaints to the Legislature, not the police or her office.

"There are legitimate reasons for that law, not the least of which is that the people running these operations aren't paying taxes or complying with a wide variety of local ordinances. And certainly, the worst case scenarios for these situations could involve significant risk to those who participate," she said.

"That thought has crossed my mind," said Schrepfer, "but the people who pointed the loaded guns at me weren't crackheads."

Schrepfer said it is hypocritical of the state of Illinois to sponsor some forms of gambling while outlawing others.

"Putting your money down for a one in a million shot at the Lotto is gambling. Sitting across the table in an intellectual and psychological contest with your friends and neighbors — that's poker," he said.

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hd2006 wrote on February 17, 2012 at 8:02 am

Hey Mr. Schrepfer, if you are so upset than keep your poker game over in Urbana where you live instead of next to a Youth Center in Champaign.

Moruitelda wrote on February 17, 2012 at 8:02 am

Youth center? God forbid that a group of adults discretely play a game of skill indoors at night in the vicinity of a building that's used for children's activities during the day! 

These people weren't hurting anyone. I'm frankly quite surprised that Champaign's police department is wasting time and resources executing sting operations on small scale, non-violent card games, when every police blotter here reveals a dozen new burglaries, robberies, and other violent and destructive crimes. 

The criminalization of gambling is absurd; our resources would be better spent on treatment. The criminalization of poker is absurd; it's a much more a game of skill than a game of luck. But all of that aside, I think we can ALL agree that it would have been better for these officers and investigators to ignore the poker game and focus on curbing Champaign's crimes that actually affect other people. 

Joe SixPack wrote on February 18, 2012 at 8:02 am


The reason for this raid was very simple: Gambling is illegal, and illegal (in certain contexts) for a reason. I agree that it isn't the "crime of the century". However, that doesn't mean that it doesn't warrant the time of local law enforcement.

Gambling is illegal (in this capacity) for a very specific reason: Gambling, like drugs and prostitution, is illegal because it breeds other, more serious crimes, usually against persons. 

Example, all it would take would be one thug to start talking with an associate about this "high stakes" poker game that occurs once a week in a garage. They get a brainchild idea to go rob this "gambling operation". Next thing you know, these poor victims who are doing nothing more than playing a friendly game of cards are getting guns pointed in their faces by a person who I assure you has far less training and discretion then that of a local police officer. 

I'm sure if that happened, these poker players would be crying afoul that the Champaign Police didn't do enough to keep them safe. 

There is a method behind the madness, Morultelda. 

lovie_01 wrote on February 17, 2012 at 8:02 am

I find it completely ridiculous that people feel they can do something illegal and get away with it.  It doesn't matter how serious it is or not.  How are the police supposed to know who is in there and what is going on inside?  If you don't want to be put in that situation, then don't do something illegal.  If they want to put a stop to this they need to fully proscecute each and every individual that was there.  Ignorance of a law is not an excuse!  There are legal ways to play poker in IL, do it the right way or don't do it at all.

Moruitelda wrote on February 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

Why do the police NEED to know who is in there and what's going on inside if they're not hearing allegations of dangerous criminal activity? Why should we invest so many resources investigating, prosecuting, and imprisoning people who are not hurting us with their private activities? What is our society's obsession with using the law to exercise control over what other people do in the privacy of their own homes? If it doesn't hurt me, physically or economically, why should I care if someone else does it? Why should you? 

This poker game wasn't doing anything to me. Forget that it's illegal. Why should we, as a society, as a city, care in the slightest about it? To say, "it's illegal, it doesn't matter if it's serious," is to put the cart before the horse and accept that the government can restrict your freedom in any way it wants, without justification, and you just have to sit there and take it. 

ronaldo wrote on February 17, 2012 at 10:02 am

The fact is that it's illegal, plain and simple.  And with every illegal action comes consequences.

However, I do agree with you that maybe it shouldn't be illegal.  I wonder if it's not illegal only so as not to compete with the state in THEIR gambling activities, but I digress.  The way to deal with that is for you to use your efforts to work with legislators to legalize it, not for the authorities to "turn a blind eye" to illegal activities.  Heck, with that mindset, everyone who engages in any currently illegal activity will be whining and moaning about their illegal activity du jour not being "serious", not being "a crime against society", it being "a victimless crime", blah blah blah.   But until small bet poker gambling is legalized, guess what?

Moruitelda wrote on February 17, 2012 at 11:02 am

My main complaint is that they put so many resources towards investigating and prosecuting this case. We have REAL crimes to worry about here in C-U, not a bunch of grandpas playing a $30 buy-in poker tournament. 

ronaldo wrote on February 17, 2012 at 11:02 am

It does seem like overkill.

Urbanagirl2 wrote on February 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm

agreed! A doctor  with 18 dollars in his wallet and some semi-older citizens playing poker next to a Younth Center is criminal...picking up on the sarcasm :)
Come on Champaign, there are bigger & badder criminals out there to be caught...

lovie_01 wrote on February 17, 2012 at 11:02 am

It is illegal for a reason.  Gambling can lead to other crimes, especially if it is not overseen and sometimes even when it is.  The victim may be one of the players family, who just gambled away his paycheck.  What if someone decides to start giving out loans, and someone can't pay?  What if someone comes to the game with the intention to rob everyone there?  There are too many things that can go wrong, if this got out of hand and if the wrong people get involved.

If this was just an innocent card game, like some make it sound, how did the cops even find out about it?  I heard that it was publicized and that there were complaints about it.

Just because it doesn't hurt me personally, doesn't mean I shouldn't care... that doesn't make sense.  So I shouldn't care if a murder happens, or if homes are being robbed or about anything that doesn't happen to me personally?  Of course I care, because it could personally effect me at any point.  I want the police to do their jobs, so it deters other people from committing crimes.  If you there is no repercussions, who is going to stop these people from starting another group.  I wouldn't want this to be going on in my neighborhood, I doubt many people would.

Moruitelda wrote on February 17, 2012 at 11:02 am

Why do you give a damn if they start another game? Why don't you want it in your neighborhood? By your thinking - the internet and sex should be illegal, because some people develop addiction and it hurts their families. CERTAINLY tobacco and alcohol should be illegal. God forbid that people DRINK in your neighborhood! 

And all public businesses too! In fact, all property! After all, if one person has property, another person might come there intending on robbing it! The only reason that argument holds any water here is because poker games are illegal, so they're less likely to be protected legally. It's a circular argument. Because they're illegal, they might be preyed upon by criminals, therefore they should be illegal!

There are many things that can go wrong in anything. Gambling can lead to other crimes, but so can drinking. I don't hear you clamoring for police to shut down bars, liquor stores, and the like. In the end, you're opposed to gambling because gambling's illegal; and because you're opposed to gambling, you're fine with it being illegal. It's all circles here - the problems you cite are associated with its illegality, not the intrinsic nature of gambling. Were it otherwise, you'd be opposed to the legality of OTB facilities and casinos!

Joe SixPack wrote on February 18, 2012 at 8:02 am

As I pointed out above, if the police had not of acted on this gambling operation and it led to a more violent crime in the area, you, the very person criticizing them now, would be criticizing them for not being more proactive and preventing that violent act from happening. 

vnconn wrote on February 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

We sometimes like to play 31 with our family, bets are made with pennies or dimes.  Should we be worried that the cops are going to beat down our door now?  Yikes! Guns drawn and senior citizens in cuffs just because the government wants their piece of the action (taxes) what a joke. I think if people want to have a friendly game of poker where they make small bets leave them alone, who are they hurting! 

Moruitelda wrote on February 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

EXACTLY. Yes, there's a minuscule amount of tax evasion going on, and yes, there might be some zoning violations going on. There are non-criminal avenues to address those. From a policy standpoint, however, if you don't drive those people underground in the first place by legislating morality without a practical purpose, they can go about it legally. 

As for Ms. Rietz's comment about Springfield - yes, the problem ultimately lies there. Yes, the police and the state's attorney's office exist to enforce and uphold the law. However, my complaint is the priority that this apparently took. There are a lot of things out there that are technically illegal, but which police departments don't actively enforce or don't bother themselves with. It's technically illegal to drive 36 miles per hour on Windsor Road in Champaign. But on my drive home tonight, the flow of traffic will easily be 40-45 miles per hour. Now, speed limit violations actually have a bearing on traffic and pedestrian safety, but I don't see the local police staking out in the Sun Singer parking lot every day. 

We live in a city with a moderate crime problem. There are places in Champaign and Urbana (and on campus) that require additional police presence. Violent crimes and crimes against property are being committed. Theft. Burglary. Vandalism. Robbery. Sexual assault. Every once in a while, even a murder. We need the police to be focusing on those. I don't think our police need to be staking out and raiding $30 poker nights in some guy's pole barn when they could be investing those resources on investigating or solving meaningful crimes. 

Joe SixPack wrote on February 18, 2012 at 8:02 am

I don't think anyone was alleging that the aforementioned persons were family members gathered in their home for a game played with pennies and dimes. In fact, I believe the article even pointed out there was a gun on the premises. Lets try to make some obvious distinctions between the two scenarios, please. 

vnconn wrote on February 20, 2012 at 10:02 am

Joe, you are totally missing my point.

jswigart wrote on February 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

I guess I don't understand why a private game among friends is something that needs to result in arrests and jail time for people who weren't harming anyone.

It's not like they advertised the game to people or scammed anyone out of anything.  These are people who know each other and get together in private.

If the police are going to crack down on this, they better be planning to crack down on every single office pool for the NCAA tournament.  Or all bets among friends regarding the Triple Crown races.  Or any other event that one could wager money on.

I also hope the police realize that this is going to result in people finding loopholes in the system and in the way they play these games.  I guarantee if these people are smart (which it sounds like they are), they'll find a way to hold this game without having cash on site.

That is unless they can be arrested for gambling with clay chips.

read the DI wrote on February 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

So what does Mr. Schrepfer do for work, anyway?



auntsonyas wrote on February 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

Someone had called in a complaint: Next time remember to invite the neighbors! (White People Problems!!)

Moruitelda wrote on February 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

Yeah, legal issues aside, this is the biggest problem I have. If they were illegally parked, call and complain about the tickets. If the complainant was just a pure busybody, get a life of your own and stop ratting on other people for technical violations that aren't hurting you. 

I like snitches when they bring down dangerous criminals. When a snitch gets a poker game broken up or some high school busted for having a marijuana cigarette, I just shake my head about the state of our society. 

GeneralLeePeeved wrote on February 17, 2012 at 10:02 am

There is no shortage of people who think that they need to impose their view of morality on the rest of us.   In fact, far too many of them have ended up running for political office lately (sorry, just had to add that last sentence)

Jsmith68 wrote on February 17, 2012 at 10:02 am

I forsee this post going on and on with no end in sight dedicated to the back and forth banter about morality.  But, let us make this what it is actually about and look at the facts.

The Champaign Police Department received not one but two documented complaints about the activity happening here.  They responded as they should and discovered it was in fact a gambling operation.  Now the question is what do they do?  Do they try to be good ol boys and just say hey fellas stop, or do they do the right thing by the book and treat as it should be, a minor crime that needs to be dealt with.  They proceeded by the book as they should, this ensures fair and equal treatment whether you are a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks or the by day upstanding doctor.

Of course they went in with their guns drawn.  Low and behold what did they find.  Quite a mixed group of individuals it appears.  First and foremost it appears a majority of the people were not even from Champaign. One person, described b the good doctor as a neighboor, was already out on bond for various felony offenses.  One persyon was in possession of cannabis.  I find that interesting because in an interview I saw a couple of police officers giveabout this even they spoke about how crime breeds crime.  This was not a bunch of neighbors having a weekly poker game. This was an organized enterprise, apparently armed and apparently in possession of drugs. 

I also found it interesting that the local tv station interviewed a person owning a business next door.  He expressed his profound satisfaction that the police had stopped this from continuing.

You can't please all the people all the time.  You can't pick and chose what laws you want to follow and those you don't.  The police did their job end of story. 

Next time Dr. if you do not wish to have a gun pointed at you during a police raid, make sure you are spending your time in reputable place

Beem wrote on February 17, 2012 at 10:02 am

"Schrepfer said it is hypocritical of the state of Illinois to sponsor some forms of gambling while outlawing others." That's such a ridiculous statement. There are all kinds of things that are illegal in some instances but not others. Racing cars is legal at race tracks, but not on I-74; smoking is legal at some places while not at others; fighting is illegal but okay inside a boxing ring, etc.

Schrepfer also said that there were "11 hard-working, peaceful citizens." Really? Wasn't one of them a felon (original story: "pending felony case in Champaign County for armed violence, aggravated unlawful use of weapons, and possession of controlled substance.) Did all of these people have jobs?


Moruitelda wrote on February 17, 2012 at 10:02 am

Racing cars on I-74 can kill innocent drivers. Smoking in public restaurants can cause secondary disease in other patrons. Fighting in public can result in a disturbance of the peace and injuries to others. How can playing poker in a private building injure others?

Busybodies complain to police over little things. Possession of cannabis (ESPECIALLY for personal use) is another one of those victimless crimes that our police shouldn't be wasting their time with. 

Unless that felon was also a fugitive, why does it matter that he was playing poker? Is there any indication that he was armed at this game? And, despite Schrepfer's characterization, is it even relevant if they have jobs? Why do you all give a damn? If they're in violation of the fire code, send an inspector and fine them. The fire code has a purpose. If they're illegally parked, ticket and/or tow their cars. Parking restrictions have a purpose. If they're violating noise ordinances or loitering, ticket those violations. The problem I have is that not only is prosecution of poker playing purposeless, it required a much more thorough investigation than just dealing with the externalities that actually have some effect on society. 

As for the other commenter - crime breeding crime - really? Surely you jest. This isn't some mafioso card game. Yes, one of the people had cannabis. Big deal. You could probably stop 10 people at random in C-U and find one of them with cannabis. It's ubiquitous. And it's another one of those things that is nonsensically illegal. I've heard no allegations that there was violent or destructive crime happening at this poker game. Just that some nosy neighbors got annoyed, and the police came down with an iron fist.

It will always startle me how much people care on principle what is a technical violation of the law and what is not, rather than concering themselves over what's destructive to society and what's not. It's legal for members of Congress to effectively insider trade - because it's legal, it's therefore good! I mean, if we assume that illegal necessarily means bad, it must also be true that legal necessarily means good!

ronaldo wrote on February 17, 2012 at 11:02 am

"How can playing poker in a private building injure others?"

Physically?  Not likely, unless someone pulls a snub nose .38 in a bout reliving the gangland days.

But if you've never been familiar with the plight of a family living with one of its members dealing with a gambling addiction and the financial stress it puts on them, then you may want to look at using other cliches.

Moruitelda wrote on February 17, 2012 at 11:02 am

(A) You can't make illegal everything that hurts families. Internet addiction is a real thing that crushes families. Should we make the Internet illegal? So is sex addiction. Should we outlaw sex? Pornography? NO! People waste money in awful ways, other than just gambling. The solution can't be to criminalize everything that can be abused.

(B) The solution, as with drug addiction, as with sex addiction, as with pornographic addiction, as with everything else, is TREATMENT. Illegality does not fix the problem; it makes it worse. It's not a sufficient deterrant. People still gamble, and in addition to losing money, wind up being imprisoned for something that's not actually harmful to society beyond the family externalities. 

Do you know how Portugal cut its dangerous drug abuse by half? They removed every criminal sanction on drug use, and spent enforcement money instead on funding publicly-accessible psychological treatment. 

If you're going to accuse me of using cliches (which I am not), you should refrain from dropping the biggest one of the bunch: that addictions ruin families. They do. But time and again, experience and academically rigorous study show that the solution is not legal censure; it's funding of treatment programs. 

GeneralLeePeeved wrote on February 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Are you suggesting that everyone who plays a little poker has a gambling addiction?  That's a tad over the top.

Chambanacitizen wrote on February 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm

What does being a felon have to do with how hard he works?  Your comment speaks volumes about  who YOU are.

DoNotTread wrote on February 17, 2012 at 11:02 am
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The militarization of police is at an all time worst. Especially in C-U. There is story after story after story that you hear about the police drawing their weapons and falsly arresting people on resisting/disturbing charges just because they have a badge and a gun and are on the power trip of a lifetime. Sure, they get it right occasionally. Most recently with that kid who ran from them in his van and jumped out to run. In cases like that, yes, use force, draw weapons. But a poker game? Really? I didn't realize we were still in the prohibition days.


And to the reader before me who commented on the fact that if you stopped 10 people on the street in C-U one would have marijuana on him. That is completely false. There would be far more than one. Probably closer to 3-4. It's 2012, people use marijuana almost as frequently as cigarettes. I see people on these message boards freaking out about someone being caught with a small amount of pot. Get over it.


You rarely see stories about Champaign police solving the big crimes. But you'll sure as hell read about them busting up a small time poker game and saving the day. Lt. Paulus, I'll sleep much better tonight knowing there won't be some doctors playing poker down the street from my house tonight. I'm sure those rapists on the run won't bother anyone though.

cats kradle wrote on February 17, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Great job! I can't sleep at night knowing that somewhere out there in the dark and fog a bunch of guys are getting together and playing cards.

flushontheflop wrote on February 17, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Moruitelda:  Your comments are insightful and clearly thought out.  Thank you.  The rest of you puritanical Amish should learn how to play Texas Hold'em, then I bet you will starting your own friendly game at home which will be subject to potentially lethal blowback by completely incompetent Champaign police force.  This case trascends any conversation about gambling legislation or the morality of it.  This is about the completely inappropriate police response.  I am so thankful that the police did not shoot any unarmed people in this case, an unfortunate precedent set by Champaign police in the past.

Egregious misuse of armed weapons is a crime far exceeding any petty gambling charge and the Champaign officers responsible for this should be suspended and those responsible for the documented shootings of innocent people should be brought to justice.

Chambanacitizen wrote on February 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Let's not forget that just last year, the Champaign Fire Dept. held a poker game.  They curtailed the law by offering a prize of gold instead of cash. But, they had a "gold buyer" there to give you cash for the gold.  Policemen were at this game, not to mention many other well known people from the community.  I am a felon.  I was at this game.  And many other games.  I've never seen a reason at any of them for police to come in guns drawn.  But our police use the excuse "we don't know what's on the other side of the door...."..YOU'RE RIGHT!!  What if there were kids behind that door? They justify goin in all big because "we have seen narcotics or guns at games before"....what a joke.  


scollins4443 wrote on February 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm
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THIS IS THE VERY REASON I LEFT CHAMPAIGN! It's the disrespectful that the police go in guns blazing and hurting little old ladies. They get away with it and Ms. Reitz make excuses for them not contacting her office. She is the one prosecuting this dumb raid and other felonies are being committed. No one at the game had high stakes. Eighteen dollars is high stakes? Give me a break. And furthermore, forfeiture of the money and property is what the police and the prosecutor want. You are allowed to have 10,000 cash on you at one time. It's not their money or property. Fight them tooth and nail for your money and property. It is becoming a police state and The Constitution forbides that and the Criminal Justice system are as greedy as any other industry. It's the whole system who violates the rights of other. I have attended games given by the firemen in the past and no raid took place. I think a few cops were even there themselves. I have enough common sense to know policemen have games and so do firemen. If that's not having double standards, I don't know what is. And for you Julia Reitz, you should be ashamed of yourself to go forward with this. It's a waste of tax-payer's money and manpower. I would file in court  a petition for my money and property because it was not the proceeds of a crime. You need to prove that!.  And all the speculation of other scenarios about theive and thugs are purposterous. Quit making excuses. You people are the thugs. You all need to be sued!