Horse track owner found not guilty in betting operation

State’s case was ‘not enough’

By Stephen Gurr

Last year, when dozens of law enforcement officials raided Vincente Escandon’s farm off Three Bridges Road near Gillsville, they were convinced they had busted a major horse-racing gambling operation.

This week, a Hall County jury needed more convincing.

The jury hearing Escandon’s commercial gambling trial took just 90 minutes Friday to find him not guilty, even after the panel was evenly split early in deliberations.

“We didn’t feel like the state proved their case,” a female juror who declined to give her name said afterward. “We felt like the evidence they showed us was not enough. They needed more.”

Escandon, a 51-year-old permanent legal resident who faced a maximum of five years in prison and possible deportation if convicted, stood stoically alongside his attorney, Arturo Corso, as the verdict was announced.
“I’m so grateful that the jury was able to see that Vincente was not guilty,” Corso said afterward. “There were so many things that were presented in the trial that were inferences of some people betting, but the state’s own case showed that were no instances of Vincente betting. We’re glad after this long period of time of battling this case the jury was able to see the truth.”

Escandon, speaking through an interpreter, said, “I’m grateful that all of the jury was in my favor.”

The verdict ends a case in which one co-defendant had his case dismissed by a judge in magistrate court and seven others got plea deals in which they were convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. One felony count of commercial gambling in the two-count indictment against Escandon was dismissed by prosecutors just prior to opening statements.

Escandon, by his own admission, operated large-scale horse races along a quarter-mile straight dirt track on his 29-acre property, with crowds of more than 100 people jamming the stands, public address systems blaring, and food and beverages sold on the premises.

But he steadfastly denied in an April 2006 interrogation by a sheriff’s investigator that he organized any major gambling venture.

The juror who spoke outside court afterward said she felt there probably was gambling going on at the track, “but there was just not enough evidence.”

Hall County Sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Strickland issued a statement Friday saying the agency was disappointed in the verdict but pleased with the outcome of a separate civil forfeiture proceeding.

Just before this week’s criminal trial, Escandon reached a settlement with prosecutors in which he agreed to sell his farm and split any proceeds beyond $300,000 with the state, up to $75,000.

In the meantime, the horse track will remain silent, Corso said.

“There’s just too much risk of side betting going on, so we’re not going to be doing any more horse races,” he said.

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