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Originally published December 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 14, 2007 at 3:47 PM

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Jacob Nickels, mayor's son, sentenced to three months in prison for role in casino-cheating ring

Jacob Nickels, the son of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, was sentenced to three months in prison this morning for his role in a multistate...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Jacob Nickels, the son of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, was sentenced to three months in prison this morning for his role in a multistate casino-cheating ring that authorities say stole millions of dollars by bribing casino employees to falsely shuffle decks.

Nickels, 26, was also sentenced to three months of home confinement and ordered to pay $90,510 in restitution to the Nooksack River Tribal Casino, where he worked.

Nickels called his role in the ring "the biggest mistake of my life." Greg Nickels was present at the sentencing, but didn't speak. Afterward, he issued a statement which read, in part: "This has been a very difficult time for our family and today's decision will help bring this issue to a close."

Federal prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Jacob Nickels to five months in prison, even though a pre-sentence report by the U.S. Probation Department recommended probation.

Prosecutors also wanted him to undergo five months of electronic monitoring, three years of supervised release and pay more than $90,000 for his involvement in the scam aimed at fleecing the casino in Deming, Whatcom County.

"The government does not believe that the Probation Office's recommended sentenced adequately addresses the harm to the Nooksack Indian Tribe, or the integral role [Nickels] plays in the cheating scheme, and would not promote respect for the law or further the interest of general deterrence," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Tate London.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Robinson urged U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour to abide by the Probation Department's recommendation, saying Nickels has fully cooperated with the investigation.

Nickels was working as a pit boss at the Nooksack casino when the government alleges he was approached by George Lee, who asked Nickels to introduce him to card dealers at the casino who might be interested in cheating. Nickels referred Lee to two dealers of the game "mini-baccarat" and was given $5,000.

London said Nickels stayed in touch with Lee and the government believes he was "integral" to the plan.

Robinson said Nickels' involvement all but ended after the introductions and that he was not even at work when the cheating occurred. Prosecutors allege the men stole more than $90,000 from the casino through a card-counting scheme in which the dealers manipulated the shuffle so that certain cards would appear in order. The "players" — including Lee — would then bet heavily on hands they knew would win.

Several of the defendants in the Nooksack case have also been indicted by grand juries in Tacoma and San Diego in what prosecutors say is "one of the largest card-cheating organizations ever prosecuted by the federal government." Members of the conspiracy, referred to by federal agents as the "Tran Organization," cheated 18 casinos — 10 of them run by Indian tribes — out of more than $1 million.

Friends and family of Nickels have submitted several letters to the judge asking for leniency. His boss at Starbucks says he has recently been promoted. Mayor Nickels wrote: "Certainly, Jake has disappointed us. But we firmly believe that he will pay for his mistake, accept responsibility and become a law abiding, contributing member of our community."

After the sentencing, Mayor Nickels released the following statement: "This has been a very difficult time for our family and today's decision will help bring this issue to a close. While the next few months won't be easy for any of us, Sharon [Mayor Nickel's wife] and I know that Jake did the right thing by accepting responsibility for his actions and cooperating with investigators. We love our son and will continue to support him in the months and years ahead. I'd like to thank all those who offered Jake, Sharon and me their support and prayers. We are very grateful."

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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