Investigators: Bootlegging in Tyler

TYLER (KYTX) -- In the old days, bootlegging took on many forms. There were the speak-easys and moonshine runners during prohibition, just to name a few. Today, bootlegging is very much alive in Tyler -- not in illegal bars and the backwoods but in neighborhoods, maybe even yours.  Investigators Michele Reese and Kenneth Dean looked into the problem.

On a hot day in June, Tyler police vice unit swarmed a home on Owen Street in north Tyler. A woman answered the door. Right inside, police spot a cooler filled with beer.

"You don't have any beer in your cooler right now?" Officer Destry Walsworth asked. The woman said no.

Walsworth said the Tyler woman is a known bootlegger.

"I already see the four 30 packs of beer right over there," Walsworth said to the woman. She told him it was all for her. 

"We've seen people come up the driveway and purchase beer and I've actually talked to somebody that has left this residence," Walsworth said about this location.

At first, the woman tells police she only has four cases of beer in her home, but vice officers find case after case.

"We recovered about 30 packs of beer," Walsworth said. "We've got Budweiser and Bud Light."

They also found paper sacks, police say, for the convenience of her customers.

She told police she charged a $1 a beer. But, despite admitting to bootlegging, police don't arrest her.

"We told her if she cooperated we wouldn't arrest her right now, at this time. What we'll do is get an arrest warrant and explain to the judge she cooperated," Walsworth explained.

As her inventory was removed she made a promise to Walsworth.

"You're not going to sell no more," Walsworth asked."You promise me?" The woman said yes. 

Despite the raid just two weeks earlier, Jacobi Washington told the Investigators that his neighbor is still selling beer.

"Not so much not like it used to be but they still come," he said."Cars come over there and go to the back and he'll pass the money and they'll give the beer back. I see it all the time."

But bootlegging in Tyler isn't exclusive to homes. The vice team also targets businesses.

In November, police busted a pool hall for having hundreds of cans of beer, and dozens of bottle of alcohol.

At that time the alleged bootlegger wasn't arrested. But now, seven months later, the vice team has a warrant for his arrest.

"We are looking for a William Coleman. He's also known as June Bug," Walsworth told his team at a briefing.

After the briefing the vice team piled in their vehicles and headed north to West Morris Street on the hunt for June Bug.

When they get to the pool hall, the team files out. Most of the patrons scatter. June Bug wasn't there.

Patron Ronald Lawton said he hadn't seen June Bug and told the Investigators what goes on at the pool hall.

"I shoot pool, play dominos, socialize with people from the neighborhood," he said.

He said while they do "party" at the pool hall, he has never seen alcohol sold inside. On this day police did not find any alcohol inside the pool hall.

But they still wanted to arrest June Bug for bootlegging on charges stemming from November.

June Bug turned himself in to police hours after the raid.

When we came back to the pool hall a few weeks later,  June Bug was there. He told us when he was busted in November he had the alcohol because he was throwing a party.  He denied being a bootlegger.

"I used to," he told the investigators. "But I ain't never been busted for no bootlegging."

But police records show June Bug was busted twice before.

"Back about four years ago I went and got some alcohol, for him (my grandpa) and bring it in town, and I got stopped by the liquor board man, about four years ago, but that's about it," he said. He admitted his grandfather was a bootlegger and he paid him $100 to make the run for him.

"I told the judge the same thing," he said.

Usually bootlegging is a class "B" misdemeanor. But, since June Bug now has three bootlegging arrests, he faces a state jail felony.

In the last year, the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission busted 101 people for bootlegging in Texas. Four were in Tyler. But, Tyler police identified 19 bootlegging locations in the City of Tyler in just the last 6 months.

Actual arrest numbers are not available because police say they don't show the whole story.

"At times we hit a bootlegger house, but when we run that warrant we find other things -- marijuana, we find crack, cocaine or meth. At that point in time due to the charge itself we generally go with the highest charge," Walsworth said.

It's those types of crimes police say are brought into neighborhoods where bootlegging happens.

"A lot of them start out just fine, but a lot of them moved up to bigger stuff, selling not only alcohol but they're selling marijuana, crack cocaine, and cocaine."

Walsworth said, these types of homes and businesses create a one stop shopping opportunity.

"They'll stop and buy beer and drugs at the same time," he said.

At these places there is no prohibition era nostalgia, just the illegal flow of drugs and alcohol into neighborhoods in this dry city.

"This is a city of Tyler issue," Walsworth said. "It's rich people, poor people, black people, white people, Hispanic people."

It's a business and crime Walsworth thinks would be slowed if Tyler ever goes wet. But he knows it will never be completely corked.

"If there's a dollar to be made somebody's going to figure a way to make it," he said.

Walsworth says bootleggers can make up to $1,000 a week because they double their money on each case of beer that they buy.


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