Landmark Wrongful Death Lawsuit Links Illegal Slots to Convenience Store Clerk Murder

Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky files complaint against Pennsylvania “skills game” maker and others.

Philadelphia, PA (11/16/2022) – An illegal video slot machine operation without any necessary security measures is at the center of a landmark wrongful death lawsuit filed today alleging that the December 12, 2020, robbery-murder of a Hazelton, Pennsylvania convenience store clerk occurred because the property owner and gas station, the gaming device maker and suppliers, and several other related defendants, prioritized profits over the safety of the defenseless clerk, according to the complaint filed today by Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky P.C. on behalf of the victim’s widow and their two daughters and a son. 

The complaint is brought on behalf of the family of  Ashokkumar Patel, 50, the attendant at a Sunoco-affiliated retailer, who worked at the  scene of the crime for only one week when, as he was mopping the floor around 9:30 p.m., was fatally shot at close range by the gunman. The shooter was a local resident, known drug dealer, according to police, and frequent gambler on the store’s illegal video slot machines designed, manufactured and maintained by defendants. 

The lawsuit includes claims of gross negligence and strict product liability that resulted from Mr. Patel’s death. Many of the defendants, including Georgia-based Pace-O-Matic (POM), Sunoco and their affiliated companies, along with Miele Manufacturing, of Williamsport, are well-known throughout Pennsylvania and permitted an unsafe “mini casino” to operate without the security measures in place that communities expect from legal gaming operations.

Larry Bendesky, of SMB, said following what is believed to be the first such filing in Pennsylvania

As noted in the complaint, these illegal gambling devices have a long and nefarious history in our Commonwealth’s criminal justice history as magnets for violent criminals looking for an easy score, knowing that the small stores  that typically provide them are stocked with thousands of dollars to make instant cash payouts, and lack any of the necessary security measures to protect the low wage, front-line workers and customers. As a result, the combative, controversial industry that refers to these devices as “skill games”, and their partners at gas stations and other small businesses unequipped to handle these operations, needs to be held accountable for what in this case was clearly a killing machine.” Mr. Bendesky noted that the store’s “security cameras” were no defense against the attack, but merely recorded evidence used in the criminal proceedings. 

Robert W. Zimmerman, also a member of the SMB legal team, added

Mr. Patel, who was mopping the floor at the time of his murder, was gunned down by his assailant who fled the store with thousands of dollars stored to pay gambling winnings from the illegal machines. His widow and their three children want to make sure that besides the killer, those responsible for knowingly putting this beloved husband and father in danger, and for ignoring basic safety and security protocols, are held accountable. Workers like Mr. Patel were considered ‘essential’ during this time in the pandemic. But the only thing that was essential to the defendants was to place as many illicit profit centers – these illegal gaming devices – throughout the state as they could, without any regard to their inherent dangers.” SMB’s John L. Lang is co-counsel along with Mr. Bendesky and Mr. Zimmerman. 

According to the complaint, “Without the safety procedures and regulations, such as those at a licensed, regulated, taxed casino, violent criminals have identified these locations as soft targets with large amounts of cash.” In the case of Craig’s-Sunoco, the complaint notes that earlier in 2020 the store was robbed by an assailant who claimed to have a gun. It also documents other locations, also offering illegal video gaming, that were robbed prior to the Craig’s Mart fatal robbery.  

The Luzerne County District Attorney at the time of the murder stated that the illegal machines at the 512 W. Broad St. location were the lure for the killer, who previously played at the store and knew it had significant cash on the premises and virtually no security; there was no onsite private security, not even a bullet-proof shield or enclosure separating the employee from customers.

 

Contacts:

Larry Bendesky / lbendesky@smbb.com 

Robert Zimmerman / rzimmerman@smbb.com 

Steph Rosenfeld / steph@idadvisors.com / 215-514-4101

 

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