The two lawyers appointed by the Alexandria City Council to investigate allegations of illegal gambling activities in the operation of bingo games in the city have withdrawn from the case.
This has prompted several council members and officials, including Police Chief Charles T. Strobel, to call for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the allegations.
The lawyers are Burton B. Hanbury Jr. of the City attorney's office and David W. O'Brien of the commonwealth's attorney's (prosecutor's) office. The council appointed them early this month, giving them power to prosecute should a special police investigaion produce evidence of illegalities.
Hansbury said yesterday he decided against participating in the probe after an article in The Washington Star said O'Brien was an adult member and officer of an Explorer Scout unit that the Star said "conducted illegal bingo games last May."
Hansbury said he could not see "how we conduct an investigation that would appear to the public to be totally impartial" when one of the investigators had himself been linked to the alleged illegal bingo operations.
O'Brien also said yesterday that he had resigned from the case, but added that another prosecutor would be appointed in his place. "We feel that there are other assistants available for the responsibility and we want to avoid even the appearance of impropriety," O'Brien said in a statement.
Commonwealth's Attorney William L. Cowhig, who has been accused by some Alexandria officials with failing to vigorouslyprosecute violations of the Virginia bingo laws, was said in The Star article last Friday to have set up the Explorer Scout unit, which The Star said was established last year and sponsored three nights of bingo games last May.
O'Brien has denied ever joining the Explorer unit, and Cowhig has denied allegations that there were illegal bingo operations and that he had any conflict of interest.
In the past, Cowhig has said he would not accept an independent special prosecutor to take over the investigation, and has also contended that insufficient evidence has been presented to warrant prosecution. Cowhig's office said he was in Hot Springs, Va.; yeaterday for the annual commonwealth's attorneys conference. He could not be reached for comment.
City Council member Donald C. Casey said yesterday he is preparing to introduce a resolution at next Tuesday's council meeting, asking Cowhig to step aside in favor of an independent prosecutor who would carry out the investigation. "We need a special prosecutor and we need the state police," Casey said.
Four other members of the seven-member council said they support in principle idea of passing a resolution urging the appointment of a special prosecutor.
Alexandria City Attorney Cyril D. Calley said he agreed with Hanbury's decision to resign from the bingo probe and added that his office would no longer participate in any bingo investigation.
Police Chief Strobel, who is known to have been uncomfortable with the arrangement worked out for the investigation at a closed-door session of the Alexandria City Council on April 5, remarked after learning of the Hanbury resignation:"I feel that there should bea special prosecutor with an investigative grand jury."
The council also decided at its April 5 meeting to assume more direct control over bingo operations in the city. Tehe council itself has agreed to take on the responsibility of issuing permits for bingo operations, a task formerly assigned to city finance director Howard Holton.
The council also is studying the possibility of requiring bingo operators to obtain special use permits for the permised where the games are held. Finally, an admissions tax may be imposed on all bingo games in the city.This would force bingo operators to keep records of the number of people playing the game and would make it easier for the city to keep track of the amount of money the games take in.