Nearly 30 nabbed for running or participating in large-scale gambling house in Winter Haven

Police raided Winter Haven home on Friday

WINTER HAVEN - Two of the nearly 30 people arrested on charges of running an illegal gambling house, deny any wrongdoing, saying they were just celebrating a birthday.

Winter Haven police raided the home on Friday after a two-month investigation prompted by an anonymous tip.

Investigators said they found decks of playing cards, gambling tables, dice, more than $8,000 in cash, and a written ledger with gambling information.

They said they also caught some of the men trying to destroy the evidence by flushing it down the toilet.

"The police lady told me to get down on the ground, and I'm like, 'whoa,'" said Merlin Labissiere, who was arrested Friday and has since bonded out of jail.

He described Friday night's police raid like a movie -- more specifically, like Bad Boys II.

"They came out of everywhere," he said.

When it was all over, police arrested 28 people and a juvenile on charges ranging from gambling, drug possession, to destroying evidence and inciting a riot.

"Gambling?! What gambling? Everybody was just hanging out," said Labissiere. "We were watching TV."

"Nobody was playing cards? Nobody was gambling?" We asked.

"Nobody was doing nothing!" He said.

Labissiere denies all of investigators' claims. In fact, he and others, say they never even went inside the house.

"I ain't gambling, I was outside," said Rodriguez Destine, who was also arrested for gambling.

The investigation took more than two months, and ended with a chaotic night.  Police say was one of the biggest in-home gambling operations they have ever seen.

"The information we received was large sums of money, playing different types of games, whether it be dominos, cards, those types of things," said Capt. David Brannan with Winter Haven Police. "I'd say for us, yes it was a large operation."

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