Arlington's Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department has lost its bingo license after county officials said they found the group violated Virginia bingo laws and allowed some volunteers to divert some of the games' proceeds to their personal use.
Jean Marshall Crawford, an attorney in the Arlington Commissioner of Revenue's office, said an audit had disclosed what Revenue Commissioner Geraldine M. Whiting called "unrefuted evidence" of bingo violations and the case has been turned over to the county prosecutor's office.
The most serious violation, Crawford said, was the use of some bingo receipts "for the personal purposes of officers, directors and members of the organization." She declined to reveal how much money was involved, saying only it was "not a large amount."
Crawford said some of the money was used for travel to a state firefighters' convention and for "the health and welfare" of members of the volunteer association. She declined to elaborate.
County records indicate the Cherrydale volunteers raised more than $75,000 a year with their weekly Saturday night games, obstensibly to help buy equipment for the 69-year-old fire station they own at 3900 Lee Highway.
Following a hearing before Whiting on the charges in November, the volunteers' 1984 license was revoked last December and they were denied a 1985 license, Crawford said.
Carroll Elliott, the volunteers' president, said last night that the group is taking steps to correct the problems with the games, including hiring an attorney and accountant and applying for tax-exempt status. "We didn't know we had to do these things," he said.
He said about $5,000 was spent to send 10 volunteers to a convention on fire protection one year. An undetermined amount of money, he said, was also spent to help seriously ill or dying volunteers with medical bills and for a Christmas dinner and toys for a needy family that he said would not otherwise have been able to celebrate the holiday.
One violation, Crawford said, involved the volunteers' repeated failure to apply for federal tax-exempt status as required under Virginia law when an organization's receipts exceed $75,000 annually.
The volunteers also failed to keep a complete accounting of the use and origin of their receipts as required by state law, nor did they keep the required record of attendance and the names and addresses of winners, Crawford said.
State laws applying to bingo games and lotteries run by nonprofit charitable institutions were tightened after a 1982 investigation into games run by the Annandale Boys Club, which ran one of the largest games in Northern Virginia.
In Arlington volunteer fire departments are largely social organizations which augment professional firefighters by helping staff fire stations.