Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Legion waits

Goodwill, good deeds put on hold

        A vintage World War II cannon stands guard outside the headquarters of the Chambers-Hautman Budde American Legion Post 534.

        Pockmarked from bullets, that old piece of artillery on River Road has seen some serious combat.

        But it's nothing like the strange, protracted battle raging over the Legion hall's expired bingo license.

        Terribly time-consuming, the battle is also taking its toll on the community of Riverside.

        Post 534 does good deeds for local charities with the money it raises from bingo games

        Bingo at the Legion hall takes in somewhere between $400 and $700 every Sunday night, weather and holidays permitting. Some of the money goes to entertain and feed veterans permanently stationed in the Riverview Nursing Community, the VA Hospital and Joseph House homeless agency.

        Other bingo funds buy Barbie dolls and toy trucks for needy neighborhood kids. Santa hands out those presents at Post 534's annual Christmas party.

Seeking license

        Walt Croswait, Post 534's commander, discovered the expired bingo license in August.

        “It was hanging over the Coke machine at the Legion hall,” the Vietnam vet told me. “It read 1999. We shut down the games.”

        Walt applied to the state for a 2001 license.

        The new year arrived. But no new license.

        Post members were worried. They called Delhi Township's state representative, Steve Driehaus. He's trying to get the ball rolling in Columbus.

        Meanwhile, Walt called the state attorney general's office.

        “Some lawyer fella in Columbus told me we were under investigation.”

        The lawyer would not explain why.

        “We had some break-ins at the Post in 1999 and 2000,” Walt said.

        “Some paperwork was missing. Maybe we didn't do something right. Wonder what's taking so long.”

        Me, too. So, I called the attorney general's office and spoke with Chris Slagle.

        By law, the attorney general's spokesman could not confirm or deny Post 534 was under investigation. He did say the application process takes time. And, Post 534 is way down the list. No. 1,053 out of 1,130.

        The spokesman said the attorney general's office takes applications for charitable bingo licenses very seriously. The games generate serious dollars for worthwhile causes.

Huge numbers covered

        For 1999, the most recent year figures are available, charitable bingo in Ohio grossed $780 million.

        The risk for fraud exists. In 1999, a Cincinnati rabbi pleaded guilty to a theft charge after his charity bingo games took in $2 million-plus and reported only about $500,000 to authorities.

        Chris Slagle cited several laws the attorney general's office enforces to prevent and punish fraud.

        Jim Sizemore is an Army veteran and Post 534 executive board member. Explaining the reason for holding bingo games and giving the money to charity, he recited a line from his American Legion membership card.

        “To promote peace and goodwill on earth.”

        That's the same tradition these veterans upheld in the armed forces.

        Now, they are being reminded of another tradition, one they know all too well, from their years of service to their country:

        Take a number. Get in line. And wait.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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