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In a Pickle

A bingo investigation could turn sour for Colorado's secretary of state.

At first glance, or even second, it would seem that Vickie Corder doesn't have a good feel for bingo. The thirty-year-old Arvada resident recently reported she was down $30,000 from playing Pickles, a lottery-like pull-tab game popular in bingo halls. (An acquaintance says the figure is actually closer to $60,000.)

Despite that bleak record, some very important people have been turning to Corder as a bingo expert. In the past few months she has been interviewed by the chief deputy investigator for the Arapahoe County District Attorney's office; she also says she has spoken to an IRS agent, who was interested in hearing Corder describe how the game is played locally.

Corder even received a personal call, at her home, from Secretary of State Victoria Buckley, the elected official who regulates Colorado's $250-million-a-year bingo industry.

Everyone, it seems, wants to learn what Corder has to say about bingo. And no wonder: What she says is that some of the biggest bingo organizers in the state--organizers with very close ties to Secretary of State Buckley--may be corrupt.

The story of how Vickie Corder went from being a low-profile, if extravagant, local bingo player to someone fielding personal phone calls from one of the state's highest elected officials began just over six months ago. On January 17, two bingo investigators from the secretary of state's office, Patrick Ryan and Chuck Greene, started looking into complaints concerning members of the Doyle family, whose influence seemed to cast an unusually wide shadow over many of the bingo games played in the Denver area.

Devout Catholics, the Doyles--Homer, Winifred and their son Kevin--say they believe very strongly in bingo as a fundraising tool crucial to charity work. Sometimes together, sometimes separately, they have applied for and received gaming licenses from the secretary of state to sponsor bingo games for half a dozen charitable organizations.

What concerns the Doyles' critics is what the trio does with the thousands of dollars they raise through the games ("Buy the Numbers," March 20). Records at the secretary of state's office show that much of the cash has crisscrossed back and forth between organizations that the Doyles control. This means that Homer, Winifred and Kevin have, in effect, given thousands of dollars in donations to each other's charities.

The most money by far has shown up in the bank accounts of the Bingo/Raffle Association of Volunteer Organizations, or Bravo, a nonprofit association run by Kevin Doyle. Its stated purpose is to promote bingo in Colorado, and several other Doyle-family organizations have contributed big chunks of money to Bravo over the past several years.

At times Bravo can behave like a legitimate advocacy group. It puts out an occasional newsletter, and members often meet at the Broker Restaurant to discuss business (expenditure reports filed with the state show that thousands of dollars have been spent on conferences at the restaurant).

But a lot of Bravo's money has gone to less obvious purposes: huge payments to lobbyist Freda Poundstone, for example. State records show that Bravo and another Doyle-led organization, Concerned Parents for Education, paid Poundstone more than $100,000 between 1995 and the spring of 1997. Bravo also makes the $500-a-month lease payments on Poundstone's car, a late-model Cadillac; and last summer the Doyles purchased $6,000 worth of lawn furniture for Poundstone's Greenwood Village home.

There is no law against paying sky-high fees to lobbyists, nor are there any that prohibit clients from lavishing them with perks. Yet it is puzzling what Poundstone has done at the Capitol to earn her keep: Although Colorado's bingo statutes are up for sunset review in 1998, over the past few years there has been virtually no bingo-related legislation before state lawmakers.

One possible explanation for the Doyles' checks might be Poundstone's helpful political connections. The lobbyist seems to have the ear of the secretary of state herself, the person directly responsible for regulating the Doyles. The two women consider themselves friends and political associates; last summer Poundstone hosted two fundraisers for Buckley at her home. Buckley attended one of them, at which guests sat on Bravo's lawn furniture.

The secretary of state's office began receiving complaints about the Doyles from other bingo operators soon after. But Buckley seemed reluctant to pursue the allegations, according to a grievance later filed against the secretary by one of her own investigators this past spring. "No action was taken or direction given to resolve these complaints until it was forced by the persistence of the complainants," wrote Patrick Ryan.

Finally in January, Ryan and Greene were given the go-ahead to investigate the Doyles. They turned in their report to Buckley on February 5. As a result of their work, two people received misdemeanor citations: Winifred Doyle, for operating an unlicensed game of chance; and Bob Hampe, a hall owner, for permitting an unlicensed game of chance to be played in his bingo hall.

Yet the investigators' findings reportedly included far more serious allegations about the Doyles' operations--"any one of which could have gotten their licenses yanked," claims one source. Instead, the state bingo investigators suddenly became the hunted.

On February 25 Ryan and Greene were informed that they had been suspended pending an investigation into allegations of unprofessional and intimidating behavior. What that behavior was and when it allegedly occurred remained a mystery until nearly a month later, when, during a meeting with Buckley, the two men were given copies of four letters of complaint from bingo players. They charged Ryan and Greene with harassing them one evening at a bingo hall and with swiping $500 from the till at one of Doyle's games.

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