Harris County drops lawsuits aimed at shutting down Houston poker clubs

The Harris County attorney on Thursday dropped lawsuits seeking to shut down two private Houston poker clubs, three weeks after a criminal prosecution of the clubs’ employees by the district attorney’s office collapsed.

First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said dismissing the civil cases does not clear Prime Social Poker Club and Post Oak Poker Club of wrongdoing, but merely recognizes that proceeding without the underlying criminal charges was unreasonable.

“These nuisance lawsuits rely on criminal investigations,” Soard said. “If we don’t have a criminal investigation to rely on, it doesn’t make sense as civil lawyers to pursue it in civil court.”

Soard said the county will re-file the suits at a later date if it can gather enough evidence.

District Attorney Kim Ogg on July 16 dismissed charges of money laundering, engaging in organized crime and gambling promotion against nine poker room employees. The charges stemmed from a May raid of the clubs led by the district attorney’s office. The county attorney, which pursues civil matters, initially cited evidence gathered in the raids as proof the game rooms were criminal organizations and should be shuttered.

In dismissing the criminal charges, Ogg cited multiple conflicts of interest, included a campaign fundraiser and former consultant to her office who also conducted business with the poker clubs. She asked the FBI to take over the case. The bureau said it would review the case files, but as a matter of policy does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.

Attorneys for the Prime Social Poker Club said Ogg’s former consultant, Amir Mireskandari, along with Houston private investigator Tim Wilson and attorney Jimmy Ardoin, accepted $250,000 from the club in exchange for drafting a city ordinance protecting gambling establishments. City Council never debated or voted on such an ordinance, and the club owners concluded they had been duped.

Mireskandari denied scamming the club, saying he performed work on the ordinance and planned to pitch the idea to council members after the 2019 elections. He said he suspected Wilson made unrealistic promises to the poker club without his knowledge.

Wilson has not responded to requests for comment. Ardoin denied wrongdoing.

Mireskandari said his role at the DA’s office ended in May 2018, the last time county records show he was paid, and said he had not known the clubs were under investigation. Ogg has said his account was accurate..

In a statement, a spokesman for Prime Social said the club had been unfairly targeted by the district attorney’s office and planned to reopen soon.

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