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8 arrested in downtown L.A. shell-game operation

Police say the suspects set up shop in the 500 block of Los Angeles Street. They are believed to be responsible for grand thefts and robberies valued in the thousands of dollars.

December 10, 2009|By Andrew Blankstein

It's that time of year again. There's a chill in the air. Holiday shopping goes into overdrive. And Los Angeles police warn residents that con artists are out in force, eager to separate unsuspecting victims from their money.

A case in point: Los Angeles Police Department officers arrested eight people between the ages of 27 and 67 over the weekend downtown on suspicion of conspiracy to commit gaming in connection with a shell-game operation. The suspects set up shop in the 500 block of Los Angeles Street, said Lt. Paul Vernon.

They are believed responsible for dozens of grand thefts and robberies valued in the thousands of dollars.

"Any shopper who thinks they can parlay gift money into a big wad of cash is going to be sadly disappointed," Vernon said. "No one ever wins in a shell game, and what's worse, much of the money lost goes right into the pockets of gang members, who tax gambling rings."

The shell game involves "a tosser" or "dealer" who quickly moves a small, round object under one of three shells or bottle caps mounted on a table or cardboard box.

To make the game more enticing, a shill is employed to give the appearance that the game is winnable.

By the time the victim chooses a shell, the dealer, by sleight-of-hand has already removed the object.

The shell-game rings that have been operating downtown also tend to attract gang members, Vernon said.

As in past cases, the latest scheme drew local gang members, who began robbing unsuspecting players, sometimes assaulting them or knocking them to the ground.

Those arrested included the alleged ringleader, identified as Juan Arroyo, 42. The "tossers," who manipulated the shells, included Santana Valencia, 67, and Adrian Sanchez, 42, Vernon said. They are all Mexican nationals.

The last big arrests involving street gambling was in January, when at least 10 people were arrested in connection with a ring that operated on Los Angeles Street between 4th and 6th streets.

Shell games and three-card monte, a similar scam that uses cards instead of shells, have long been a problem on Broadway, which draws thousands of shoppers each day. More recently, police have seen such activity migrate east toward Los Angeles Street.

andrew.blankstein @latimes.com

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