Did Sheriff Nienhuis Turn a Blind Eye to Illegal Gambling at Local Moose Lodge?
HERNANDO – The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office is cracking down on illegal gambling establishments, especially flashy sweepstake businesses that pop up in local strip malls throughout Hernando County.
But patrons, especially the elderly, argue that it’s nobody’s business how they spend their hard-earned cash, because without sweepstakes they would have very little social interaction in the community. Unfortunately, for sweepstake-goers Sheriff Al Nienhuis is charged with enforcing State Law, regardless of who the violators might be – that is until a recent State Agency discovered that Nienhuis may have turned a blind eye to one Spring Hill social club because he and other local politicians may frequent the establishment.
On March 8th of this year, agents with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation Division of Alcohol Beverages and Tobacco Bureau of Law Enforcement (ABT) raided Moose Lodge #521 located at 5214 Mariner Blvd, after receiving information of illegal gambling activity.
The investigation that began in 2017, led to the arrest of 68-year-old Paul Michael Chmura of 8134 Winding Oak Lane in Spring Hill. But unlike previous raids on Sweepstake establishments, this one took place surreptitiously, without Nienhuis or his Detectives gloating about the bust on social media. As a matter of fact, there was no mention of the raid or Chmura’s arrest to the public or the media by any means at all.
Previous warrant executions were broadcast on the agency’s Facebook Page Live, like the one at Butter’s Place located at 90 Commercial Way and High Five Sweepstakes at 3616 Commercial Way. In 2016, Detectives raided at least three locations in Spring Hill, including the old Pickled Parrot Night Club.
What makes the Moose Lodge inquiry unusual is that the Sheriff’s Office never initiated an investigation, even though there are unconfirmed reports that Sheriff Nienhuis participates in club events and may even be a member. Despite reaching out to Sheriff Nienhuis, Spokesperson Denise Moloney, Agency Attorney Joel Fritton and Col. Mike Maurer six times since Chnura’s arrest, they have refused to comment or even reply to our inquisitions.
We also contacted Hernando County School Board Member, and candidate for County Commissioner Beth Kirshy Narvrerud, but she also declined to comment. Narverud’s Father, Rob Kirshy and Mother-in-law, Dorothy Kirshy are both high-ranking officers at the Moose Lodge.
We tried to speak with Paul Chmura but he also refused to comment.
During a search of the Lodge, ABT investigators discovered at least 4 illegal slot machines, gambling chips, bank ledgers, gambling ledgers, dice, and official bank documents with gambling ledgers attached. Nearly $750 was retrieved from the slot machines. An additional $11,359 was also discovered inside separate cash drawers, inside the business.
Special Agent Samuel Funaro found that Paul Chmura unlawfully and intentionally operated a gaming or gambling business inside the Moose Lodge, in violation of 849.01(1) and 49.15(1) FS.
Chmura taken into custody and booked into the Hernando County Jail, where he has since posted a $5,500 bond.
The Moose Lodge remains open at this time.
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