Raleigh woman charged with sweepstakes gambling says she sold business months before her arrest

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comJune 2, 2014 

— After the shooting death of her husband at his pizza parlor in 2011, Waheeda Ammeri sold the business.

“It had bad memories for me,” said Ammeri, 36, of Raleigh.

Ammeri later decided to also sell her husband’s share of Lucky 22, an Internet Sweepstakes cafe in North Raleigh. She said she did not approve of her husband owning an establishment that is part of an industry opponents say preys upon the poor. She had never even set foot inside the business.

“I told him I rather work an hourly job,” said Ammeri, a Muslim who is a native of Afghanistan.

This winter, Ammeri was one of three people indicted by a Wake County grand jury, charged with operating Lucky 22.

Ammeri says she sold the business to her husband’s partner, Arken El Hicheri, who also was indicted. Documents indicating the sale were sent to the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office on Nov. 21, 2013, less than two months before Ammeri was charged, but the documents were not filed until after her arrest because they were incomplete.

Ammeri was about to start her shift at a CVS pharmacy on Jan. 7 when El Hicheri called and told her she had to come downtown; there was an arrest warrant in her name, charging her with gambling because the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office records still showed she was the owner of Lucky 22.

“I hated to be the one who had to tell her because of all the things that had happened to her,” said El Hicheri, a native of Tunisia who lives in Raleigh. “This was the icing on the cake.”

Ammeri was frightened. When she arrived at the Wake County Detention Center with her young daughter, a woman officer searched her.

“I told her, ‘Don’t do this to me. I’m innocent,’ ” she said. “She checked my body parts. For a Muslim girl this is so embarrassing. It’s better to die.”

Ammeri said Islam forbids gambling.

“I go to the mosque, but I feel embarrassed,” she said through tears. “Why did this happen to me? I don’t feel comfortable sitting with my friends.”

Ammeri now works two part-time jobs, at the CVS and at a daycare center. Her oldest child, a 16-year-old daughter, will attend Meredith College this fall. She also has a 12-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.

“I could lose my job because of this false information,” she said. “It’s hard. I’m struggling to bring food for my three children. If I don’t have this job what am I going to do?”

Ammeri said she’s also fearful about applying for other jobs because prospective employers may check her out on the Internet and see where she has been accused of running a gambling business.

Ammeri and El Hicheri appeared in Wake County District Court in April. Ammeri brought documents indicating that she did not own Lucky 22.

Ammeri and El Hicheri had signed a business agreement on June 25, 2011. She would sell her husband’s share of the business for $35,000 with a down payment of $20,000. El Hicheri also agreed to make monthly payments of $1,987.50 over the next eight months, ending on July 25, 2013, according to an agreement containing both their signatures.

El Hicheri said he mailed the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office documents indicating a change in Lucky 22’s ownership in November. He said the office mailed them back to him because something had not been filled out properly. El Hicheri said by the time he mailed the documents back, warrants had been issued for his and Ammeri’s arrest.

“They really ruined somebody’s life because she had nothing to do with it,” El Hicheri said. “No apology. Nothing.”

Ned Mangum, Wake County’s interim district attorney, declined to comment on the charges. Mangum said the case is expected to be heard in district court this summer.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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