Many Charities, People Indicted In Bingo Probe

CLEVELAND (AP) - Seven charities and 59 other people and organizations have been indicted in an investigation of instant bingo games.

The gambling networks illegally diverted $1.03 million from charity, according to Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason, who announced the indictments Tuesday.

The indictments include 45 individuals, 10 bars and four instant-bingo stores in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, and adjacent Lorain County and Summit County.

The defendants face 323 felony and misdemeanor counts for activities from May 1999 to November 2001, including theft, illegal gambling, money laundering and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, Mason said.

The prosecutor said he expects to work out plea deals with those charged with lesser offenses and use their testimony against those higher up in the illegal enterprise.

"I don't expect many trials. The evidence is strong," he said Wednesday.

The investigation emerged from Lakewood police raids of three instant-bingo storefronts last November, Mason said.

Lorain County Prosecutor Greg White on Wednesday announced the indictments of three others allegedly involved in the scheme.

The investigation revealed a loose enterprise of instant-bingo operators, suppliers, charities and tavern operators who each "took a piece of the pie," Mason said.

The enterprise "acted under the guise of charity . . . illegal gambling proceeds were retained and/or distributed to the members of the enterprise for their own use," according to the indictment.

Bar operators allegedly sold one box of instant-bingo tickets for charity and one box or more for their own profit. Under state law, all profits from instant-bingo sales must go to charity.

The charities charged include the Firestone Park Athletic Association, which operates youth baseball leagues in Akron.

Donald George, an Akron attorney, said the charity and its officers have done nothing wrong. He said they were victimized by a man who used the charity's name for instant-bingo sales without permission.

At the bars and instant-bingo stores indicted, workers were paid to sell the tickets, Mason said. Under the state's charitable-gambling laws, bingo workers must be volunteers.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)