Etowah County DA dismisses gambling charges against Gadsden woman

Michelle Regina Garbe

Etowah County District Attorney Jimmie Harp has dismissed gambling charges filed against a Gadsden woman last week.

Michelle Regina Garbe, 51, was charged Friday with one count of possession of a gambling device and one count of promoting gambling after an agent with the sheriff's department found people playing electronic bingo at Center State in Rainbow City. Harp feels the gambling operation was a ruse to provoke an arrest by the sheriff's office and an attempt to obtain a gambling permit through the criminal court system.

"It is very clear to me that the defendant and those involved in the operation staged this entire event and forced Sheriff Entrekin to make an arrest," Harp said in a news release. "I am convinced that CBS Supply is attempting to use the criminal court system to get what they have been unable to obtain in the civil court system which is a permit from the Sheriff."

Harp said he refuses to allow his office to be used as a means to determine the legality of electronic gambling devices and operations.

"Sheriff Entrekin did, in my opinion, what he is expected to do when he made this arrest and I would expect that he will do it again if called upon.{}{} However, I will not have my office used as a mechanism to determine the legality of electronic bingo." he said.

Harp also noted the lack of funding for his office and the thousands of dollars it would cost taxpayers to prosecute a case such as Garbe's.

"The District Attorney's Office is as underfunded as it has ever been and, although a misdemeanor, this case would cost tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in expert witness fees and the like to prosecute. My attorneys have massive caseloads including a large number of capital murder cases, violent crimes, and crimes against children, and I am not going to grind those wheels to a halt to accommodate the bingo interests.{} Once an arrest is made it becomes the taxpayer's burden to foot the bill for the litigation instead of them."

Harp said he has been in communication with Sheriff Todd Entrekin and the Alabama Attorney General's Office in regards to ongoing electronic bingo issues in the state.

"I have informed Sheriff Entrekin of this decision and he has expressed to me his support for it." Harp said. "I have also communicated with the Alabama Attorney General's Office and understand that they are continuing to investigate both civil and criminal issues with regard to electronic bingo in various areas in Alabama and certainly may reinstate these cases if it wishes."

He ended by sending a warning to anyone involved in future gambling operations in Etowah Co. to use the court system to obtain decisions on gambling permits before setting up operations in his county.

"By this action, I am in no way expressing a legal opinion on the legality of bingo in Alabama.{} There are, however, many other avenues for these folks to get a decision from a court before they start bringing machines into this County. I would suggest that they use one of them instead of route of confrontation with the criminal court system.{} Should the path of confrontation be taken again, all of those involved should take notice of their exposure in a criminal enterprise.{} This would include operators, employees, property owners, machine manufacturers, and any other entity that would conspire in this endeavor"