An Alexandria jury convicted George Leonard Berry last night of running an illegal gambling operation in connecton with bingo games conducted in the names of charitable organizations. The jury set his sentence at two years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
The conviction was the first to result from the investigation by police and special city prosecutor Edward J. White into bingo operations in Alexandria, which last year grossed at least at $1.2 million.
The prosecution of Berry was seen as a test of the ability to convict suspects accused of running bingo games as illegal gambling operations. Observers said an acquittal would have cast doubt on the future of the bingo probe, in which four other persons - including Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney William L. Cowhig - have been indicted.
Berry, 48, was convicted after about five hours of jury deliberation Judge Wiley Wright, who could reduce the sentence for Jan. 18. Berry remained free on bond and his attorney said the conviction will be appealed.
A string of witnesses had tied Berr directly to the operation of lucrative bingo games in the city, and the prosecution introduced documents that circumstantially linked him and three other persons - identified only as Ford, Jim and B.C. - to payoffs and profit skimming in connection with the games.
Special prosecutor White was appointed to his temporary post when Cowhig, the city's chief prosecutor, withdrew from the bingo probe following revelations that Cowhig was indicted in Angust on charges of bribery and illegal gambling.
Others indicted include City Council aide William H. Fields, bingo operator Alva Ford Thompson and businessman James Fike.
In his closing arguments to the Circuit Court jury yesterday, White argued that Berry's bingo operation "was a pure gambling (and) swindling operation." He said "money moved through the dark" from Arlandria bingo parlor at 3819 Mount Vernon Ave, Alexandria, to the Bonanza bingo parlor on Rite 1 in Fairfax County, which was controlled by Berry and Thompson. At the Bonanza location, the money was split among the participants, White said.
The bingo operators pulled "a snow job" on the charitable organizations that lent their names as sponsors of bingo games hoping to raise money, the prosecutor said.
"The bottom line is that more than $65,000 in mystery cash, greenback dollar bills" disappeared after Berry and Thompson had "hiked expenses and lowered profits" on the $282,000 grossed in the games, White said.
Introduced in evidence were documents seized from Thompson's office in a police raid last May. One contained a breakdown of cash expenses in connection with bingo games held from Feb. 13 to Feb. 19, 1978, on behalf of St. Paul's Pentecostal Church, a small Alexandria congregation.
Under the heading "Pay Out" were these notations, lightly written in pencil: "Geo 300, Ford 300, Jim 300, B.C. 150."
The total of $1,050 actually represented money subtracted from the bingo games gross for that week and paid to four individuals, White said.
Berry was accused of conducting illegal gambling between Dec. 5, 1977 and last May 7.
Defense attorney James I. Burkhardt ridiculed the authenticity of the documents in his closing arguments and said that unrecorded cash salaries paid 80 employes who earned $20 a night would account for cash that a prosecution expert was unable to find.
The fact that some representatives of the Alexandria YMCA, the Alexandria Volunteer Fire Department, the Liberty Rebecka Lodge and St. Paul's pentecostal Church - all of which sought to raise money through bingo - testified they had never seen Berry or had seen him only infrequently was proof that Berry had not been in control of bingo operations as charged, Burkhardt said.
Rather, Burkhardt said, such testimony indicated that Berry had only been an unpaid consultant to the bingo operation, as Berry stated testifying in his own defense.