TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Four East Texas men pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a misdemeanor gambling charge and sentenced to fines after being arrested in May 2022 for felony charges.
A poker room in Smith County, Top Shelf Poker Room, was shut down in March 2022 after more than five years in business by the county after officials at the time said there was “probable cause to believe illegal gambling was taking place.”
Top Shelf Owner and Operator Jesse Vann, 36 of Whitehouse, and three others were arrested two months later on May 10 for engaging in organized criminal activity, a first-degree felony in Texas.
Vann and his three co-defendants, LaBryce Duncan, 32 of Tyler, Todd Rowell, 42 of Tyler, and Paul Stewart, 44 of Tyler, all entered a plea agreement on Tuesday. The four pleaded guilty to gambling, a class c misdemeanor and were sentenced to fines.
Vann, Rowell and Stewart were all fined $500 and Duncan was fined $400.
In March 2022, Vann spoke with KETK news and said Top Shelf acted as a social club, the same way others do in Texas, and wished that concerns had been brought to him sooner before the sheriff’s office executed their search warrant.
“I’ve been trying to figure out things as I go, like what is it that we did wrong?” Vann said. “Because that would be the most important thing to know. We could work it out together and say: What are we doing wrong? And what do we need to be doing right?”
Vann said he and the other owners are not criminals and are not trying to do illegal activities. At the time of the poker room being shut down, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said illegal gambling leads to other things he will not allow in the county.
“I’m in no position to compromise with the law,” Smith said in a press conference. “You break the law, I’m the one and my agency, as well as the Department of Public Safety in this instance and the District Attorney’s office, we enforce the law. We don’t make the law, we don’t compromise. Whatever they compromise with the courts, that’s up to them.”