Last Feb. 23, at a board meeting of the Alexandria YMCA, City Council member Nicholas A. Colasanto urged that the group continue sponsoring bingo games, despite the concerns of the Y's bingo chairman about irregularities in the conduct of the games.
Colasanto, a longtime board member, argued that the group needed the $150 a week that bingo brought into its coffers, according to the YMCA general manager, Ken White.
Six months later, the Y's bingo chairman who was also Colasanto's city hall aide, William H. Fields, was charged by a local grand jury with running an illegal gambling operation in connection with those bingo games, and keeping the profits for himself.
Also indicted by the grand jury was Colasanto's step-nephew, Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney William L. Cowhig, who was charged with asking for and receiving $34,000 in bribes from the Montessori School of Alexandria Inc., in connection with its bingo games. Colasanto is a member of the Montessori School's board.
Fields last year took over a $10,000 debt on bingo equipment that Cowhig had obtained for bingo games sponsored by an Explorer Scout troop Cowhig had helped form, Cowhig and Fields previously agreed.
Colasanto himself, however, has remained untouched by the scandal that has rocked the city he has lived in much of his life. Colasanto was looked at briefly by the special bingo prosecutor's office, according to a knowledgeable source, but no charges have been brought.
"I hope and pray the charges against them are not true," the 74-year-old Council member said recently in his office. "If they have done what they're accused of doing, and had asked me about it, I would have told them not to do it."
Some city hall observers believe that the notoriety that has surrounded Colasanto because of the indictments may finish his long, colorful career and the era he represents.
"Nick is one of the last members of the 'old boy network' that used to run the city. He may have problems in the (1979) elections," said one veteran politician.Others, including Colasanto, disagree.
Colasanto is a product of the bare knuckles era of Alexancdria politics, a man who said he remembers when a $6,000 bribe was placed in his file cabinet during the brief period in 1948 when he was city manager.
"I called the man up and told him to take his package (containing the cash) back. I told him I couldn't be bought," he said.
Colasanto said the first he heard of Cowhig's 1977 involvement in bingo games was when "I read about it in the papers," during the first few months of 1978. Fields said yesterday that he had testified in front of a federal grand jury several months ago that he had told Colasanto in May 1977 that he had taken over the bingo equipment obtained by Cowhig.
Cowhig temporarily stepped aside from his job as the city's chief prosecutor after his indictment, the first time in the history of Virginia that a commonwealth's attorney has ever been charged with a crime. Fields is currently on administrative leave with pay pending resolution of the indictment.
Although there is a family relationship between Colasanto and Cowhig. Colasanto said the relationship has not always been smooth. "I didn't support him in his first election effort, I don't know why," Colasanto said.
After Cowhig's 1973 election victory, Colasanto was not invited to a Democratic Party celebration, but showed up anyway. Angry words were exchanged between Colasanto and at least one Cowhig campaign worker, according to several witnesses.
Colasanto said he opposed Cowhig's purchase of a $170,000 resort hotel in the Bahamas - a purchase that was financed in part with money from his late brother's estate. "I felt that wsas a lousy deal. I don't like deals that don't make money," he said.
Colasanto, briefly married decades ago but a confirmed bachelor since, said he also stopped speaking to one of his nephews after the nephew, then a local high school student, backed away from a charging half-back during a football game. "We Colasantos have guts," he said, explaining why the nephew had fallen out of his favor.
The Council member now also speaks harshly of Fields, who began working for him as an aide in 1974. "I've known him for 35 years. He's like a boy who's married and has five children. He likes to live high and has never made the grade," said Colasanto, who refers to himself as a millionaire through his extensive real estate dealings.
Colasanto is a charter member of the doughnut-and-coffee club that meets daily at Shuman's Bakery on Washington Street. There he is surrounded by friends from the past, by the camaraderie of decades of mutual support, and by a stubborn belief in his own future.
"This won't hurt me. People know I can't be bought. I love being a city councilman," he said.