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Executive Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston

The charges were dropped as easily as the cards were shuffled and dealt in August.

And it turns out that the Chattanooga Police Department walked away the big winner that night, seizing more than $9,000 from those participating in the poker game.

On Monday, the first group of more than 20 people accused of participating in an illegal poker game appeared in court and were escorted to a back room inside the courthouse and informed that more serious gambling charges had been dismissed as part of a plea agreement and replaced with the least serious misdemeanor charges, under the condition that CPD kept all the money seized.

"You're dropping our charges, but keeping our money," said one veteran who was in court Monday. "They stormed in there and took money out of our pockets ... money people weren't even gambling with."

One man claims that he lost $800, and another said he had $2,000 taken from his pocket. Neither said he was planning on gambling that money.

"They took all the cash that anyone had on them, not just what was being used for the game," said a participant who spoke on condition that he not be identified.

According to a spokesman for the CPD, seized money is "signed over" or "forfeited" to the department.

The plea deal for the 48 charged with participating in the poker game on Aug. 22 at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4848 on Riverside Drive, stated that this money would not be returned and required them to pay an $85 court fee.

Initially, about half of the group who were issued citations in August were only charged with gambling, which is a class C misdemeanor in Tennessee, and carries a penalty of up to 30 days in prison, a fine up to $50, or both. Under the plea agreement, these defendants were not fined.

The other half of the group were issued an additional charge of gambling promotion or possession of a gambling device, which is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both. Under the plea agreement, their crime was reduced to a class C misdemeanor, and they also were not fined.

The plea agreements unfolded after six individuals who faced charges hired local attorney Hannah Stokes a couple of weeks ago.

District Attorney Neal Pinkston said the same agreement was offered to everyone charged in the case on Monday, and will also be offered to the group that appears in court next week.

In September, investigators said they had been "looking into illegal gambling concerning [specific] promoters for about one year."

At that time, the CPD said there were reasons to believe that this particular raid could be connected to larger gambling activity.

Pinkston would not comment on the specifics that led to the charges being dropped.

Officials with the CPD said it is common for minor charges like these to be dropped in a plea agreement, and that they are in agreement over the resolution with the DA's office.

Everyone involved in the case will receive a Class C misdemeanor.

Though charges were diminished, many of those arrested said they still feel victimized.

"I am just mad because they (police officers) should have been out chasing down the real bad guys," said a veteran with the VFW. "It was all a bunch of garbage."

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6592.

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