HARTFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Weeks before police say a supervisor at Four Winds Casino walked away with $700,000 after receiving a phone call, the gaming industry warned casino operators about a phone scam aimed at workers.
“The scam targets casino cage employees, and the largest known incident netted $1.17 million,” wrote the Nevada Gaming Control Board in a notice issued July 7, 2023. “The cage scam is sophisticated and has been surprisingly effective in defrauding casinos.”
Derk Boss, the president of the International Association of Certified Surveillance Professionals, has worked in casino security for 40 years. The scam is unprecedented in his experience, he said.
“The amount of money that they took is incredible. It really is,” Boss told Target 8. “For this to happen with that level of money is unique, absolutely.”
The scam calls appear to come from internal phone numbers and may use AI to mimic high-level casino executives. The crooks convince workers to break internal security protocols and deliver cash offsite.
“There’s probably an intimidation factor there,” Boss said. “It’s just like, hey, the general manager or the president says, ‘I need to get this money’ and it sounds plausible. … I think it’s just that kind of intimidation that you might get in trouble really helped this along.”
A week after the Nevada gaming board issued its warning, the National Indian Gaming Commission on July 13 issued a similar alert.
“Recently, there have been multiple instances of scams at commercial and tribal gaming operations with losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” wrote the NIGC. “We urge tribal officials to ensure that (employees) … who have direct access to cash assets … are made aware of the scam and know what to do in the event of such a call…”
It’s not known if Four Winds Casino in Van Buren County received the alerts and, if so, heeded the advice to warn workers.
But 17 days after the NIGC alert, a cage supervisor at Four Winds near Hartford allegedly walked away with $700,000 after getting a phone call at work around 2:20 p.m. on Sunday, July 30.
Danika Nicole Young, 38, was arraigned last week in South Haven District Court on a charge of embezzlement over $100,000, a 20-year felony.
A man listed on Four Winds’ website as the press contact told Target 8 that neither Four Winds nor the Pokagon Tribal Police can comment as the investigation is ongoing. Van Buren County Prosecutor Susan Zuiderveen also said she could not provide “additional information at this time.”
Young, 38, was arrested in Gary, Indiana, reportedly after police issued a “be on the lookout” alert for her vehicle. According to the officer who sought Young’s arrest warrant in South Haven District Court, the Coloma resident told police she had already turned the cash over to an “unknown subject” at a location in Gary. The investigator noted the money has not been recovered.
He also reported that Young has no prior criminal history.
“That’s a lot of money to keep, I would think … in her teller space,” commented Hon. Arthur H. Clarke III, in a casual conversation with the testifying officer after the warrant signing.
“Oh, she’s the supervisor of the cash cage … So, she has millions of dollars,” the officer replied, before continuing. “The thing is she had a call I guess from somebody that she didn’t recognize, an unknown person she had met in Gary, telling her they needed the money in a certain location and yada yada yada,” explained the officer. “That was it. So, she did. She counted out $700,000 and put it in a bag and walked out of the casino.”
When Judge Clarke asked Young if she wished to make a statement before he set her bond, she took the opportunity to apologize.
“I’m very sorry for what happened,” Young told Clarke via video from the Van Buren County Jail. “This is my first charge, sir.”
Young’s mom declined to speak with Target 8 about the allegation against her daughter, though she described her as a “wonderful mother and daughter.”
“Danika’s awesome. I can say that,” said her mom. “She’s a straight-laced girl. She would not leave her son. She would not throw away 16 years (working at the casino). Something happened. Something is not right. It’s not right.”
The defense attorney hired to represent Young did not show up for her arraignment Aug. 2, so it was a public defender who asked Clarke to set a personal recognizance bond, which would have allowed Young to get out of jail pending trial without posting a cash bond.
“Ms. Young has been living at her address in Coloma for the past five years,” the public defender said in court. “She’s been 16 years working at the Four Winds Casino. She has a fourteen-year-old son at home who’s with (her) all the time. Her mother’s here to support her. She’s got her own vehicle to get herself back and forth to court and from court. We ask for a (personal recognizance) bond for her.”
But Clarke, noting the $700,000 is still missing, set Young’s bond at $1 million.
“Well, my concern is a very simple concern,” said Clarke. “The allegations are you removed from the casino … without the permission of the casino … $700,000. That (money) has not been located. … My concern is if I release you, and that $700,000 would show up … you would be off to wherever, and I would not see you again. So, I’m setting bond in the amount of $1 million cash or surety. Good luck, ma’am.”
In June, News 8’s sister station in Las Vegas, KLAS, reported an arrest in a fraud scheme that targeted two casinos in Nevada. The station reported that Erik Gutierrez, 23, faces two charges of theft for allegedly defrauding Circa Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite.
KLAS reported Gutierrez was being held on $45,000 bail at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas.
In a search of Gutierrez’s home on June 21, Las Vegas metro police said they found bundles of money from Circa, according to KLAS.
On June 17, police said they responded to the Circa Hotel & Casino in downtown Las Vegas after security reported a person called the casino cage “claiming to be the owner of the hotel,” and asking for $320,000 for an emergency payment to the fire department.
Court records said the cage supervisor delivered money in four installments to different drop-off locations, which added up to a total loss to the casino of $1,170,000.
In a separate incident in March, court records show a casino cage supervisor at Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite removed $250,000 from the property and drove to Las Vegas to deliver the money to a person who she thought was owed money for hand sanitizer.
Court records show police believe the person with whom the employee met in a gas station parking lot was Gutierrez. Detectives said they tracked Gutierrez through his vehicle and arrested him at a gym on June 18.
KLAS reported police in Nevada later recovered nearly $850,000.
The Circa Resort and Casino employee who allegedly delivered the money to Gutierrez has reportedly not been charged in the case.
But that wasn’t the outcome for a worker at a Denver-area casino.
According to a report from KUSA-TV in Denver, police said Monarch Casino cashier Sabrina Eddy walked off with $500,000 early the morning of March 12.
KUSA said Eddy initially told police someone she thought was a casino boss had called and instructed her to remove the cash or the operation would risk breaching a contract.
The district attorney’s office in Gilpin County, Colorado, confirmed to Target 8 that Eddy was arrested on March 12 but released on a personal recognize bond with tether monitoring.
In a court record obtained by KUSA, police said Eddy showed deception on a polygraph and changed her initial story.
According to an affidavit, Eddy broke down crying and told police that “unknown associates of her deceased former husband had contacted her and forced her to engage in the theft after levying threats against her family members by email and on phone calls.”
KUSA also reported the arrest of a second suspect in the Monarch heist.
Juan Gutierrez-Zambrano, 31, was charged on May 2 with theft of $100,000 to $1 million.
KUSA said Gutierrez-Zambrano’s bond was set at $525,000.
Derek Boss, the casino security expert, said, to his knowledge, it appears the casino workers are victims of the scam, not perpetrators.
“It could happen to any one of us,” he said. “You’re not prepared for it. It’s so outlandish that it sounds realistic. In the casino world, it’s just a land of unusual incidents and activity and anything can happen and it will at some point, so it sounds plausible and no one has ever done that kind of stuff before so we don’t have any history to protect that type of thing.”
He said the fraudsters usually call during the graveyard shift, when there’s little supervision and less experienced employees are on duty.
“We already have countermeasures. I can’t go get $20 from a cage. I could not do it. I would have to sign my life away. There’d have to be a counter signature,” Boss said.
But, he said, the scammers know what they’re doing:
“These scam artists, they come up with things you and I would never, ever think about,” he said.
*Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the dollar amount of the largest known theft connected with the scheme. We regret the error, which has been fixed.