Akron businessman convicted in bingo scheme

By TERRY KINNEY, Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) - An Akron businessman was convicted Friday for his part in an instant-bingo operation that diverted millions of dollars from charities.

A Hamilton County Common Pleas jury convicted Philip F. George Jr., 43, on eight of 11 charges. He was found guilty of two counts of gambling, three counts of money laundering and one count each of operating a gambling house, conspiracy and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

He was acquitted of cheating, telecommunications fraud and an additional count of money laundering.

Judge Robert Ruehlman ordered George held without bond until his sentencing March 6. George faces up 33 years in prison on the eight counts.

Before George was handcuffed and led away by deputies, defense attorney Robert Gutzwiller asked Ruehlman to allow George to remain free on bond until sentencing.

"His status has changed," Ruehlman said. "He's no longer presumed innocent; he's been convicted."

Prosecutors said George was the kingpin of an illegal gambling scheme in which "instant bingo" tickets were sold at dozens of bars, stores and clubs in northeast Ohio and in Hamilton and Clermont counties in southwest Ohio.

The illegal sales grossed more than $50 million in 1998-2000 while George, numerous subordinates and scores of tavern operators shared in profits that should have gone to charities, prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys argued that George was the dupe of James H. Jackson, 64, of Tallmadge, who was a co-defendant before he made a plea agreement with the state and testified for the prosecution.

The jury heard 2½ weeks of testimony before starting deliberations Thursday morning. It reached its verdict late Friday afternoon.

"I was a little surprised," said Gutzwiller, who already was planning to challenge the verdict.

"That's what courts of appeals are for," Gutzwiller said. "We had moved early on to dismiss (the charges) because of vagueness. The Court of Appeals will be our final arbiter."

Jackson testified that George ran the operation and that he and others gave George large amounts of cash in brown paper bags and that very little of it was passed on to charity.

When investigators confiscated about $4.8 million in a series of raids on Nov. 29, 2000, they found about $3.6 million at Jackson's house, hidden in a freezer, garbage bags and elsewhere.

No money was found at George's home or business.

George faces similar, unrelated charges in Lorain County, where he was among 41 people indicted in September on charges related to illegal instant bingo games.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)