Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. says he will soon ask a county grand jury to indict several persons on felony gambling charges in connection with the county's million-dollar bingo games. The request will mark the first time Horan has sought indictments in connection with bingo, which he has actively investigated for the past several years.
If indictments are handed up by the grand jury, it would also mark the second time in recent weeks that a Northern Virginia grand jury has indicted individuals for a game of chance intended as a fund-raising device for churches and charities which has actually developed into a multi-million-dollar-a-year industry.
Last month an Alexandria grand jury indicted that city's commonwealth's attorney, William L. Cowhig, and three other men on charges of illegal gambling in connection with bingo games. Cowhig was also accused of bribery.
"United Charities Inc. is the focus of our investigation, and has been for more than a year. We are now reviewing more than six pounds of documents and reports which have been gathered since May," Horan said.
United Charities Inc. is owned by Alva Ford ("Fordie") Thompson, a well-known Northern Virginia bingo operator who has also been indicted in Alexandria on felony gambling charges relating to bingo.
United Charities conducted bingo games for more than a year at the Bonanza Playhouse, 7520 Richmond Hwy., on behalf of the Mount Vernon Youth Association and two groups known as the Pioneer League Baseball club and the Lee District Basketball club, Horan said.
The investigation has centered on the question by why bingo games held in the name of the three groups grossed more than $1 million dollars last year, although only about $20,000 was ever returned to the groups for their use, according to Horan.
Virginia law permits charitable organizations to conduct bingo games if they are run by volunteer members of the organization. Last May Fairfax County authorities ordered the three groups to halt their games after it was revealed they had entered into legal contracts with United Charities Inc. to run the games on their behalf.
Additionally, only the Mount Vernon Youth Association had obtained a permit from the county to run the games, as required by law.
In addition to Thompson, Horan said "several other individuals" are also under investigation, though he declined to name them.
Thompson and his attorneys could not be reached for comment.
In neighboring Alexandria, indicted Commonwealth's Attorney Cowhig will return to Circuit Court on Monday to have the date of his trial set. All three local Circuit Court judges last month declined to hear his case, and Prince William Circuit Court Judge Percy Thornton was appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court in their place.
Last year Horan investigated bingo games run by the Anandale Boys Club, but declined to prosecute because "we (didn't) find any violations we could prove," he said at the time.
Currently a special state legislative subcommittee is considering making changes in the state bingo law and hopes to have tentative proposals ready by November, according to its chairman, state Del. Ralph L. Axselle Jr. (D-Henrico).
Last year all bingo games in Virginia grossed more than $50 million, and bingo games in Alexandria and Fairfax grossed more than $1 million in each location, according to official records.