Fire co. hit with sanctions

October 26, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

CLEAR SPRING - Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Co. was stripped of its wholesaler's license for tip jars, hit with a suspended $24,000 fine and placed on two years of probation following an investigation into its bingo and tip jar operations, fire company and Washington County Gaming Office officials said Wednesday.

The fire company also was ordered to tighten its bookkeeping procedures and to improve its record keeping.

Mismanagement of funds and poor record keeping were the primary problems found during the Gaming Office investigation, according to Jim Hovis, director of the Gaming Office, which regulates the sale of tip jars in Washington County.

Gaming Office and fire company officials jointly agreed on the sanctions and were pleased with the results of the investigation, officials said.

The Gaming Office imposed some of the sanctions to ensure proper bookkeeping practices, Hovis said.

Hovis said both parties wanted to ensure the integrity of gaming in Washington County while enabling the fire company to continue fundraising. The fire company suspended tip jar sales and bingo shortly after the investigation was made public in May.


"The fire company has demonstrated, by its actions, its desire and intent to restructure its gaming operations to comply with all local and state gaming regulations," a written release says.

As part of the agreement, the fire company admitted to committing 23 violations under its wholesaler's license, according to the settlement agreement. The violations included poor record keeping on gambling proceeds and invalid expenditures of gaming proceeds.

Clear Spring was the only fire company in the county with a wholesaler's license, which allowed the company to buy tip jars from manufacturers and distribute them to licensed operators in the county, Hovis said.

As part of the agreement, the fire company will never again hold a wholesaler's license.

The company's operator's license to sell tip jars at its own location was not revoked. Fire company president Ronald Poole said the company hopes to reinstate bingo and tip jar operations at the company's activity center by Dec. 2.

A $24,000 fine was imposed on the fire company but suspended, according to the eight-page settlement document. Hovis said the fire company will have to pay the fine if it violates the terms of the agreement during its two-year probation period.

The fire company was directed in the agreement to establish proper record-keeping practices for bingo and tip jars within about four months.

The company needs to maintain a general ledger with detailed accounts and precise descriptions of transactions related to gambling, according to the settlement agreement. The reports must be dated and maintained in a secure area, the agreement specifies.

"All data entry into the general ledger system should be completed by the treasurer of the fire company or a designated person who is not involved with the cash collection process," the agreement states.

Expenses should be reviewed to ensure they are valid. The fire company will submit a written report from an accountant annually to the Gaming Office.

Within 15 days, the fire company will be expected to have gaming stickers for all unused tip jar packets at the company's bingo hall, the agreement states. Gaming Office and fire company officials began that process Wednesday.

The agreement also requires that two people who were identified by fire company officials as being largely responsible for running the fire company's bingo and tip jar operation be permanently banned from participating in those activities.

Thomas Altman and Wanda Lynch, both life members of the Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Co., were barred from further involvement in bingo or tip jar operations shortly after the investigation began. Altman and Lynch in September were sent letters by a fire company official notifying them that their memberships were indefinitely suspended, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Herald-Mail.

Altman said that he and Lynch had not seen the documents released Wednesday, including the sanctions imposed by the Gaming Office. They said they would comment, perhaps through an attorney, at a later date after reviewing the reports.

Hovis said the fire company failed to submit accurate reports on the number of tip jars that were sold. Those tip jars were being sold without Gaming Office approval, he said.

The fire company also failed to follow procedures, such as putting required stickers on the tip jars, Hovis said.

Officials said Wednesday that while the Gaming Office has concluded its investigation, at least one other investigation is continuing. They would not specify who or what agency was conducting the second investigation.

The following sanctions were imposed on Clear Spring Volunteer Fire Co. by the Washington County Gaming Office:

· Wholesaler's license revoked

· $24,000 suspended fine

· Two-year probation period

· System of internal accounting controls established

· Detailed accounts must be kept

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