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Closing arguments heard in gaming case against Hagerstown Heat cheer coach

October 22, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- More than a year after a prosecutor presented evidence against Anna Lois Miles, the cheerleading coach was back in Washington County Circuit Court on Tuesday morning for the rest of a hearing before a judge.

Miles' defense attorney did not present any witnesses, but he and the prosecuting attorney gave closing arguments.

Miles, 35, founder of the Hagerstown Heat All-Stars cheerleading club, was charged with holding an illegal gambling event at the Boonsboro Fire Co. in February 2006 to repay a parent who had helped bail her out of jail the previous year, said Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael, who referred to the fundraiser as a "bail party."

The bingo and tip-jar event was advertised as a benefit for the Hagerstown Heat All-Stars, Michael said Tuesday.

Miles was charged with gambling: keep, use, permit a place of gambling and other crimes in connection with the event. She pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry maximum penalties totaling five years in prison and $4,000 in fines. A conviction also could subject her to additional prison time for violating probation.

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Washington County Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III took the case under advisement, and asked Michael and Eric Andrews, Miles' defense attorney, to submit a memorandum regarding the case within 30 days. The judge then will set a date for an open hearing to read his verdict.

Miles was convicted in 2004 for writing bad checks from the Hagerstown Heat's account.

Michelle Tapia of Chambersburg, Pa., had testified that she was given $2,000 of the proceeds from the tip jar event, the amount that she loaned Miles for bail in December 2005. Miles had been arrested for failing to make court-ordered restitution to some victims of $24,000 worth of bad checks that she had written.

In October 2007, Michael and five prosecution witnesses portrayed her as having knowingly skirted state and county gaming laws by organizing the unlicensed bingo and tip-jar event on Feb. 17, 2006, ostensibly to benefit the Hagerstown Heat All-Stars cheerleading club.

Bingo and tip-jar events can legally be held only to benefit nonprofit and charitable organizations, Washington County Gaming Office Director James B. Hovis testified. The Hagerstown Heat is a for-profit enterprise owned by Miles, said Tapia, who kept the group's books and had two daughters in the club. Tapia had to make repeated requests to get her money back, she testified in October 2007.

Tapia's testimony and the county's gaming rules both factored into Andrews' defense Tuesday. He argued the prosecution was a "witch hunt" and that evidence against his client amounted to testimony that she had been at the event and played bingo that evening. Receipts and other documents from the event were signed by other people, not by Miles, he said.

Andrews asked why parents who sold chances for tip jars or the Boonsboro Fire Co., which ran the bingo, weren't prosecuted.

Not all Little League organizations are nonprofit, but often they run games of chance.

"We better start prosecuting all Little Leagues," he said.

Michael defended the state's prosecution of Miles.

"The state follows where the money goes," he said. "We won't prosecute those people if the money is used legitimately."

But there is a "crucial difference" between most Little League fundraising and this case, Michael said.

"That two grand didn't go anywhere but down a rat hole," Michael said.

Two Hagerstown Heat coaches also were prosecuted in connection with the event.

Charles W. Buffington, 39, whose last known address is 80 Byron Drive in Smithsburg, was sentenced to probation before judgment after being found guilty of co-operating a tip jar and was ordered to serve 18 months of unsupervised probation. Other counts against Buffington were dropped.

Suzette Nichole Durbarow, 36, pleaded guilty to co-operating a tip jar. She also was placed on probation, and relocated to Florida.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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