A key figure in the federal and local investigations of Northern Virginia's bingo games has told the FBI that Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney William L. Cowhig never sought or received any payments from him in connection with the games he ran.
The questions were put to James R. Fike by two FBI agents during a two-hour interview last month, according to Fike and a copy of an FBI report filed in a state court in Alexandria.
The FBI questions about Cowhig, Alexandria's prosecutor who has been linked to several figures under investigation in the probe, provided the first look at the direction that the federal agents are taking in their investigation of the once-flourishing bingo industry.
Fike, a 39-year-old mechanical engineer at a Washington bakery, has been indicted on charges of gambling by staging allegedly illegal bingo games in 1977. He is accused of running the games in the name of a company that Cowhig, while a private attorney, had helped him incorporate in 1972.
Fike, who has maintained he is innocent of the gambling charges, has been convicted on a misdemeanor charge concerning the bingo games. He is appealing his conviction.
Fike said he has known William Cowhig for 25 years. "That's the only reason they're going after me," he said last night. "Because I'm a friend of Bill's. It's a political witchhunt."
Although FBI agents interviewed Fike, a copy of their interview report was filed in Circuit Court by Alexandria's special bingo prosecutor, Edward J. White, who is conducting a separate investigation into the bingo operations. White's investigation began after Cowhig removed himself from the case.
Federal officials have indicated their investigation is, in part, concerned with determining whether there were attempts at political corruption in connection with either the bingo games or massage parlor operations in the region.
Cowhig has denied that he has ever acted in an improper or unethical way in connection with bingo games. He could not be reached yesterday for comment.
In the FBI report, Fike was quoted as saying that he rented a bingo parlor at 4603 Duke St. from Robert Gerber, an area businessman who has run many bingo games and whose records have been seized by bingo prosecutor White.
Cowhig, who as an attorney in private practice once represented Fike, as well as another bingo operator named Edward L. Hinkle Jr., and Gerber. In 1967 Cowhig acted as the incorporating attorney for G & H Builders Inc., a firm Gerber and Hinkle set up, according to corporation records.
Specifically, White's allegations against Fike, who allegedly ran the games on behalf of his company, B&J Specialties Inc., were spelled out in a bill of particulars filed in the court. Fike is accused of having obtained a bingo permit under false pretenses, keeping the profits for himself, making no accounting of funds, keeping no financial records, and paying $9,000 in salaries each month for six months, although under state law bingo games must be run by unpaid volunteer members of the sponsoring organization.
The sponsoring organization, Gold Star Mothers, received $200 from Fike, although receipts from the bingo games totaled $57,462, according to the court documents. A document prepared by Fike showed that $55,170 in prize money was paid out to bingo game winners.