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Fire Co. faces 32 gaming violations

September 08, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

CLEAR SPRING - The Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Co. was cited with 32 counts of gaming violations, and has appealed penalties imposed by the Washington County Gaming Office.

The Gaming Office and Maryland State Police began investigating the fire company in May after the company allegedly mishandled its bingo and tip jar fundraising.

Jim Hovis, Gaming Office director, said Thursday that he did not want to release details about the violations or the penalties because attorneys from both sides are in negotiations.

The maximum penalty for a first offense is $1,500 per violation and suspension of the department's license to operate tip jars, Hovis said. In Clear Spring's case, that could mean $48,000 in fines.

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Fire company president Ronald Poole has said that the company had been fined as the result of the Gaming Office investigation, which included an audit of the fire department's financial records.

No penalties have been issued at this time because they were appealed. Poole said last month he believed the department might lose its wholesale license, which allows the company to operate tip jars.

Poole said in August that the fire company did make mistakes in its handling of tip jars, but no violations were found in the bingo fundraising.

On Thursday, Hovis said the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Co. still had its wholesale and operating licenses.

"We have not yet taken action," Hovis said. "That's what the attorneys are working out."

The attorney representing the Gaming Office is William M. Schildt of Hagerstown. Kent Oliver, also of Hagerstown, is representing the fire company.

"The resolution of the case is being negotiated," Schildt said.

Hovis said he does not want the penalties to affect the fire company's role in the Clear Spring community.

"What we're trying to do is negotiate a penalty which will not harm or interrupt fire services in Clear Spring," Hovis said. "We want to put sanctions on them, but we recognize the vital role they play in the community there."

While criminal charges against individuals were possible, Hovis said there were none in this case.

Hovis said the fire company was cooperating fully with the investigation, and that it is common to appeal sanctions. If an agreement cannot be reached between attorneys from both sides, the matter will be brought to an administrative law hearing that is set for Oct. 17.

In August, Poole said the fire department's attorney was working to make sure the company could continue to raise money with bingo.

"We're working together," Hovis said. "And we're going to get them back on track."

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