Kevin Doyle, suspected linchpin in a vast conspiracy involving the secretary of state (possibly), the Denver Broncos (sort of), lobbyist Freda Poundstone (definitely) and a Jesuit priest (at least one), leans back in his office chair and smoothes an explosive shock of frizzled hair back behind his neck. "This," he warns, indicating the streaks of gray, "is what bingo will do to you."
Doyle, who is 33 years old but looks 50, is wearing an untucked shirt desperately in need of some soap. His blue trousers are paper thin; the cuffs have split ends. The soles of his black shoes are worn completely through to his socks.
On the far wall of his office, which is just off South Federal Boulevard, is a framed picture of a saint with a dried palm frond tucked behind it. Underneath is a Knights of Columbus plaque designating Doyle and his family--dad Homer, mother Winifred--Family of the Year.
"What I'd really like," Doyle says somberly, "is to return to school to complete my studies to be a priest." His blessed mother, with whom he lives and works, sits beside him as he speaks.
"My nickname out there is 'The Lightning Rod of Bingo,'" Doyle explains. "Every time there's a problem, I'm the one who gets crucified. And damn it, I'm getting tired of it."
At this, Winnie Doyle glares and huffs at her son. "Mom keeps getting mad at me when I say 'Damn it,'" Doyle says.
What he can't understand, Doyle continues, is why anyone would question his motives. God's honest truth is that everything he has done--collected pots of money, worked late into the night at smoky bingo parlors six and seven times a week--has been for the good of various local charities and for the greater glory of bingo itself.
Doyle's organizations have, in fact, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past four years. Much of the money has crisscrossed between a handful of charities: Concerned Parents for Education, Our Lady of the Rosary Academy, the American Foundation for the Handicapped, Blessed Margaret of Costello, Beacon of Dignity and the Colorado Parents Awareness Association. Doyle's growing number of detractors will point out that each of those organizations is connected in one way or another to a member of the Doyle family. But you give to what you know.
Kevin Doyle even directs a nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to advancing bingo as a method for charitable fundraising: the Bingo/Raffle Association of Volunteer Organizations, or Bravo. Through its own bingo games, it has raised thousands of dollars.
Every penny has been accounted for and, Doyle says, went to a necessary expense. The cable TV subscription. The Doyles' travel to conferences, and that of their associates as well. The liquor and party supplies for the selfless Bravo volunteers (whose identities the Doyles must scrupulously protect so that they will not be harassed by state bingo regulators). And thousands and thousands of dollars critical for Bravo's numerous strategy sessions at the Broker Restaurant.
"We sit down and talk a lot, about what's going on, how to get the word out," Doyle says. "This is what we do."
Working in a secular world requires concessions, and over the past few years it has also been a necessary evil for Doyle to retain the services of lobbyist Freda Poundstone, who is a close friend of Secretary of State Victoria Buckley, who regulates bingo games, which Doyle runs. Doyle's groups have paid Poundstone more than $100,000--more, even, than Poundstone has managed to report on her required state disclosure forms.
But securing face time with important legislators is difficult and tiring work. And so when Poundstone suggested she had other needs, the Doyles were ready to oblige.
"Freda said she needed a car," Doyle recalls. "So I said, 'Okay, this is what lobbyists need.' She said, 'I have to get back and forth to the Capitol.' And then there's the appearance thing." In order to help secure the future of bingo, Bravo provided Poundstone with a new Cadillac to ferry her to the legislature.
For her part, Poundstone, who did not return Westword's calls, apparently has become so utterly convinced of the need for fair bingo regulation that she has allowed Bravo's members to convene at her Greenwood Village home. "We were meeting in seedy places, awful hotels," Winnie Doyle remembers. "And so she said, 'Why don't you meet here?'"
And by the way, the lobbyist added, "You'll need some furniture."
So that bingo volunteers could conference more comfortably, last summer the nonprofit Bravo bought the lobbyist $6,000 worth of lawn furniture for her patio. "It's very good, stand-up metal lawn furniture," Kevin Doyle says.
The furniture was purchased just a month before Poundstone hosted an outdoor gathering with Buckley and members of the bingo industry at her home. Even though the event was presented as a $500-a-plate fundraiser for Buckley, "it was mostly a way to get members of the industry to sit down and talk," Buckley recalls. "There was a bowl that sat on the table. If you chose to put money in it, fine. If not, that was okay, too."
"It's Freda's way of giving back to the community," Winnie Doyle says admiringly of Poundstone's commitment. "She understands what we're doing."
Bingo is an odd clash of cultures. By state law, bingo and pull-tab contests must be organized and run by volunteers for the benefit of nonprofit, charitable organizations. Yet bingo is also a vastly cash-rich enterprise--a quarter-billion-dollar industry annually in Colorado alone--from which many people manage to scrape together a decent living. John Mulligan is one of them.
Mulligan and his wife, Leta, run The Bingo Co. from a building off of Santa Fe Boulevard at Mississippi. It sells gaming supplies. Inside, John's personal office is expansive, and he conducts business from a blood-red, high-back leather chair. Outside, matching his-and-her silver Lexus sedans with consecutive license-plate numbers guard the front door.
"I make money at this," Mulligan says. "I don't pretend that I don't."
Mulligan started working in bingo halls in 1968, helping out his father at church games. Later, after he joined the Denver Police Department, he began moonlighting as a security guard at the local halls.
He bought a bingo supply business in 1977 and, three years later, opened his first hall, at Alameda and Tejon. In 1981 he opened a second bingo emporium, at 65th and Wadsworth, which he still owns.
Mulligan retired from the police force as a lieutenant in 1990 so he could concentrate on what had become the more lucrative of his two professions. Thanks to a series of shrewd, exclusive deals with out-of-state manufacturers of bingo supplies and pull-tabs, in recent years The Bingo Co. has secured a near-monopoly on the supply of gambling products to Colorado's nonprofits.
(Mulligan is apparently shrewd in other gaming ventures. This past October, as they patrolled the west parking garage at Denver International Airport, airport security officers found an abandoned black-leather briefcase. Nervous that it was a bomb, they opened the case gingerly. Inside was $15,800 in large-denomination bills. Outside was the owner's name. When contacted, Mulligan told police he'd won the money gambling in Las Vegas while attending a bingo conference.)
For the past quarter-century, Mulligan explains, the basics of the bingo industry have remained largely the same. There are three primary players in the business: the bingo-hall owners, who are little more than landlords for games; suppliers, who sell gambling materials such as pull-tabs and pickles (so-called because patrons originally plucked them from pickle jars) to the hosts of the games; and the hosts themselves, the nonprofit organizations that must first be licensed by the secretary of state's office to qualify as certified charitable groups and then again to raise money through bingo games.
Still, Mulligan says he has seen some big changes since he got into the game. "When I opened my first hall, there weren't more than five other bingo halls in the area," he recalls. "Now there are more than fifty. It has become extremely competitive."
One reason for the stiff competition is tight regulation, which makes it difficult for one organization to gain an advantage over another. For example, the secretary of state's office regulates, by square footage, how much rent a hall owner may charge nonprofit organizations to hold bingo games there. (Charities may host games in their own buildings, but halls generally are bigger and thus able to draw larger crowds.)
The state also has a strict list of rules for the charitable groups, which cover everything from how they can qualify for a bingo license (for starters, they must have been in existence for at least five years) to how much prize money they can award ($1,500 per session) to how they keep their books.
But there's apparently still plenty of money to be made in the game. In the past year a man named Bob Hampe has made a big splash in the local bingo pool by snapping up three bingo halls and a supply company. Hampe, who until last year was the chief operating officer of the Denver Broncos, reportedly paid a premium for all three businesses. Doyle's charitable groups play their bingo games almost exclusively in Hampe's halls.
And that's a lot of games.
Despite the state's detailed regulation of bingo, it's still possible, with a little ingenuity, to move bingo proceeds about in a creative manner.
The Colorado Parents Awareness Association was founded on June 1, 1990. Sal Perez, an employee of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, called the meeting to order; it was, after all, his house. "It was decided to form an organization to deal with the problems of all present regarding their children's problems," the minutes of that meeting read. "Such as: drug abuse, uncontrolled behavior, lack of interest in school work, and juvenile delinquency." Perez was named president.
At the next annual meeting, business quickly turned from the philosophical to the practical. "Many thoughts of what the first order of importance could be were discussed," the minutes relate. "The decision was unanimous. CPAA will strive to build its bank balance...A motion was made and seconded to develop a substantial bank account."
But by the June 1994 annual meeting, CPAA had bad news to report. "During the past year we have lost all our members," the minutes lamented. "The only dedicated individuals involved are the current officers and directors." Left to carry on were Perez and a co-founding couple, James and Brenda Billinger, of Northglenn.
Fortunately, by now CPAA had started to receive some much-appreciated charitable attention. An organization called Auraria Community Center, based on Lipan Street, began donating thousands of dollars' worth of its own bingo proceeds to the struggling parents' group.
Auraria had received its bingo license in March 1992. Two months later it named its bingo games manager: James Billinger. By the end of that year both Billinger and Sal Perez were signing checks on the community center's bingo account, although neither appeared to be an officer or director of the organization.
One of the early checks, a $1,000 donation from 1992, was made out to the Colorado Parents Awareness Association. That was followed by more donations to CPAA, nearly $14,000 in all.
Reached at home--CPAA's business number is disconnected--Billinger explains that the parents association "donates to other organizations, mostly organizations that are just starting out." Any examples? "I don't have the names handy," he says.
Auraria has spread its bingo largesse around, though. From 1994 to 1995, for example, it graciously donated $42,500 to a nonprofit organization called Just Because, Inc.
According to incorporation papers filed with the secretary of state's office in October 1992, Just Because's charitable mission is broad: "providing support to lawfully exempt organizations." Sitting on Just Because's board of directors are Sal Perez and James and Brenda Billinger.
Just Because "is another group that donates to other groups," Billinger explains. That's the theory, anyway. Despite the money Just Because has received from Auraria over the years, however, it "really hasn't done too much," Billinger adds. "We're just on the ground floor."
In August 1995 the secretary of state's office noticed that, while Auraria's bingo license had been granted so that it could provide donations to the Auraria Community Center Food Bank, no such donations had been made--even during the same period that big checks were flying out the door and into the accounts of Just Because and Colorado Parents Awareness Association.
Regulators also questioned nearly $45,000 worth of checks that Auraria wrote to a company called T.A. Flyers. Ultimately, they concluded the company was "fictional" and that the money was simply making its way back to Auraria, where it disappeared. "I don't know much about that," Billinger says.
Because of such infractions, Auraria Community Center agreed to have its bingo license suspended for six months starting in January 1996. And once it could hold games again, the nonprofit promised that Billinger would no longer work as its bingo games manager.
In the meantime, Billinger has been busy doing good works elsewhere. Last year, after waiting the required five years, his Colorado Parents Awareness Association applied for its own bingo license from the secretary of state's office. State inspectors requested financial disclosure documents from CPAA's earlier years, but the group's officers declined, pointing out that the government regulators had no business reviewing how CPAA's money was being spent until the organization was a licensed bingo operator. The organization was licensed early last year.
Since then, the nonprofit founded by Sal Perez and the Billingers has collected thousands of dollars through bingo games. But CPAA has apparently managed to make only a single donation, in May 1996, for $1,000. It was to another charity: Just Because.
The rest of the money CPAA took in has gone to cover expenses. "We're really not making a whole lot of money," Billinger admits. In 1996 the organization paid nearly $40,000 in rent to host its bingo games at a place on South Federal Boulevard called Sal's Bingo, which is named for its owner--Sal Perez. The payments, state regulators say, were all legal.
Despite the interesting money maneuvering between Auraria, CPAA and Just Because, one enforcement worker remains unimpressed. "Sal Perez and the Billingers," the state employee says, "have nothing on the Doyles."
Debbie Lambrecht concurs. An accountant whose business is helping nonprofit organizations balance their books, Lambrecht has devoted most of the past half-year to following the Doyle family's every financial move.
"People just don't believe me when I tell them what's going on," she complains. Lambrecht claims that she or her friends in the business have attended Doyle-run bingo games that are unlicensed; games at which the same volunteer workers show up time and again (each nonprofit is supposed to use only its own volunteers to run games); and games during which proceeds from one group turn up in another group's bank account.
"If you look at what the Doyles are doing and what they're getting away with, my gut instinct tells me that conspiracy is not too big a word," Lambrecht says.
How aggressively the bingo business is regulated is left up to the secretary of state's office, which oversees which groups get licenses and which are disciplined for violating the numerous rules of the game. While she was secretary of state, Natalie Meyer earned a reputation for being a stickler. Meyer stuck to the rules so closely, in fact, that she and her compliance officers earned a pet name from many bingo operators: the Gestapo. So when Meyer announced that she would not seek re-election, movers in the bingo industry set out to find a more understanding replacement. They settled easily on career bureaucrat Victoria Buckley.
Buckley was sympathetic. When she sat down with some members of the state's bingo and raffle industry at the Broker Restaurant before the November 1994 election, one hall owner recalls, Buckley promised that if she was elected, she would try to get government off their backs. The industry, she assured them, would be left alone to do what it was supposed to do: raise money for charitable, nonprofit organizations.
When Buckley won the election, bingo operators were jubilant. "Santa's gift to Colorado Bingo!" the December 1994 Bingo Journal proclaimed in a headline.
Although bingo-industry members didn't give whopping amounts of money directly to Buckley's campaign before the vote--they gave about $4,500 in all--they have continued to support her in other ways. Poundstone's at-home fundraiser for Buckley last August raised more than $3,000.
And, in turn, Buckley has shown her appreciation for the bingo and raffle industry--by leaving them alone.
Really, really alone.
Indeed, there's almost no one left at the secretary of state's office to do any regulating. Soon after she took office in January 1995, Buckley fired Frederick Young, a bingo criminal investigator who'd been working there since 1989. He has since successfully appealed his termination, although Buckley is fighting that decision.
Then, three weeks ago, the secretary placed two more of her bingo inspectors on administrative leave. While declining to give details, Buckley says that she had to act because she had received "numerous" complaints against Patrick Ryan and Chuck Green from members of the gaming community.
Both men are fighting the move. In the meantime, Buckley has yet to replace any of the three deposed enforcement officers--which means that her office's enforcement team responsible for policing the bingo industry is half the size it once was.
Or, to look at it another way: "It's like the Ramseys filing a complaint against the Boulder Police Department and having most of the force fired," says Mulligan.
Buckley explains that she is relying more on administrative-law judges to handle discipline within bingo, which she says is fairer. In recent months, though, some operators who'd initially approved of Buckley's relaxed approach to the bingo industry have begun to complain. A major reason for their displeasure is Kevin Doyle. Even in this exquisitely permissive environment, his critics argue, Doyle is getting away with much too much.
"There are some very sincere and dedicated people out there--but not many," says Mulligan. "And it seems to me awfully funny that people could volunteer that much for nothing. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, sometimes it's a duck."
Members of the Doyle family, adds Ron Bauerkemper, publisher of the Bingo Bugle, "seem to be able to do what they wish without having to comply with the laws like everyone else. Vicki has allowed this to go on for reasons that we in the business can't understand. The whole thing stinks. I'm really disappointed with Vicki."
"We all voted for her," says Lambrecht. "But the Doyles are not abiding by the same rules as the rest of us are. It's blatant, and I have to wonder why they're allowed to get away with it."
Buckley says her office has begun an inquiry into the Doyle businesses but that a good, solid investigation takes time. Still, more than a few people noticed that, at the time they were taken out of the field by Buckley, both Patrick Ryan and Chuck Green were working almost full-time on the Kevin Doyle case.
"I think Kevin started out good, with the best intentions," says one person intimately familiar with Doyle's business interests. "But somewhere along the line he lost it."
"Kevin's a do-gooder. I don't care what they say about him," his father says. Homer Doyle is sitting in his tiny accounting office on South Federal Boulevard surrounded by drifts of tax-return documents. "He's doing his best. But he's made enemies.
"He's simple, like me," Homer continues. "I don't know what he'd be spending his money on if he's as big a crook as everyone says he is. He doesn't drink. Well, he drinks--don't get me wrong. But he doesn't carouse.
"I wish he was a doctor. I wanted him to become a doctor. But he went this way."
"When I was in grade school, the teachers said I was dyslexic," Kevin Doyle explains. "So my mother and father helped start a Catholic school." After they later helped found a second one, "I started noticing how active they were and how they took a role," Doyle continues. "I also started seeing then what an important role bingo played in raising money for their organizations."
Thanks to his new teachers, Doyle says he earned a mathematics scholarship to Regis University, but he left after two years. He moved to Boston and finished his studies at a small seminary, where he says he took the brotherly vows of poverty, chastity and charity. "And then I came back here with a headful of ideas," he adds.
Over the next few years Doyle became an officer or boardmember of numerous nonprofit organizations. A couple, Blessed Margaret of Costello/Beacon of Dignity and Concerned Parents for Education, were started by his parents. Others--primarily the Bingo/Raffle Association of Volunteer Organizations (Bravo)--Kevin himself helped found.
Bravo was started in 1989 to, among other things, "promote the bingo-raffle activities in a legal and ethical manner." Its first registered agent was a man named Roland Tomsick, whom state regulators banned from the business after determining that he controlled the bingo licenses of approximately two dozen nonprofit organizations. Kevin Doyle has been Bravo's president since 1992. His mother sits on the board of directors.
One of the reasons he founded Bravo, Doyle says, was to help fight senseless government regulations of bingo gaming (he has filed several legal actions against the secretary of state challenging various rules). But soon after he started the organization, Doyle claims the state's bingo enforcers began harassing him.
"As soon as we sent in our articles of incorporation, most of our directors got audited the same day," Doyle says.
Adds his mother, Winnie: "The focus has always been Bravo, because they're fighting the good fight."
That good fight seems to have a lot in common with the Doyles' personal interests, the family's detractors respond. Taken together, these critics say, the Doyle organizations represent a vast intertwined network through which tens of thousands of dollars have been funneled to family members for their personal use.
For starters, they point to Concerned Parents for Education, started by Homer Doyle in 1978. Like many of the Doyle enterprises, this nonprofit has a very broad mission: "To further the education and standard of life for the youth, for parents, and parents without partners, for the elderly and for any other individual that may feel the organization can help elevate purpose of life."
According to filings at the secretary of state's office, recently the charity has taken in tens of thousands of dollars in bingo proceeds. Most of CPE's donations, however, have stayed in the family.
For example, it bequeathed $1,750 to Bravo, Kevin Doyle's group (Kevin is also secretary of Concerned Parents and on its board of directors; Winnie Doyle is CPE's games manager). In the past two years the charity also has sent approximately $33,000 to Our Lady of the Rosary Academy--which has its own bingo license and for which Kevin Doyle has managed bingo games. (Monsignor Ray Jones of the Archdiocese of Denver says Our Lady has no affiliation or contact with the Archdiocese--which, he says, makes it unique among the area's Catholic schools.)
In addition, a woman named Margaret Slattery sits on Our Lady's board, as well as those of Bravo and Concerned Parents. Father Joseph Ganssle, a Jesuit who helped found an organization called the Religious Coalition for a Moral Drug Policy, serves on all three boards, too. (Calls to Our Lady were picked up by an answering machine and not returned.)
Since 1994, Concerned Parents also has donated about $12,000 to a nonprofit entity called American Foundation for the Handicapped. As of its 1995 corporate filing with the state, the foundation's president was Homer Doyle, who is also listed as the organization's sole director.
Then there is Blessed Margaret of Costello/ Beacon of Dignity. (Dedicated, according to its articles of incorporation, "to the sanctity and inviolability of the human person by discovering every avenue--personal, familial, social--which will support, promote and defend the love of every human person from conception to death, irrespective of age, sex, physical, mental, emotional or vocational.") Kevin Doyle says his mother started Blessed Margaret after her father began exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer's. Kevin sits on the board.
Blessed Margaret has an office on South Decatur Street, just around the corner from Homer Doyle's accounting office. (State inspectors suspect the organization used bingo proceeds to build an addition onto the office for Winnie's mother.) The South Decatur building also is the listed address for Concerned Parents for Education, which pays the office's utility bills and its property taxes.
A good chunk of Blessed Margaret's donations have gone to the Colorado Parents Awareness Association, about $12,000 in all. Most of the gifts were made in 1994--which, perhaps not coincidentally, was during the time that James Billinger was Blessed Margaret's bingo games manager. In 1995 Blessed Margaret lost its license for a month for unexplained expenses. As part of an agreement reached with the state, Billinger may no longer act as games manager for the group.
At the center of all these groups is Bravo. Late last year, Our Lady of the Rosary--which shares two officers with Bravo, Slattery and Ganssle--donated $2,600 to the bingo/raffle organization. Bravo, for its part, donated $5,000 in late 1995 to Concerned Parents for Education. The overlaps also occur in less obvious ways. One player recently complained to the secretary of state that during a bingo game, Kevin Doyle told her to write a check to Beacon of Dignity. When the check was returned to her, she said, it had a rubber stamp over it reading "Bravo."
Bravo also appears to host a lot of generous functions for its members (whom the Doyles decline to name). In one recent three-month period, the organization sprang for nearly $5,000 worth of travel and dining expenses. And that didn't include the $1,200 it spent at the Broker Restaurant during the same time. (On January 9, 1996, alone, Bravo wrote $590 worth of checks to the Broker for "conferences.") Or the $500 and $429 Bravo spent, respectively, at Heritage Discount and Applejack's liquor stores, on supplies for "volunteer appreciation parties."
Bravo also donated $750 to Arapahoe House and $1,000 to Phoenix Concepts, both drug-and-alcohol-treatment programs.
But all of that is pocket change compared with the amount Bravo has lavished on Freda Poundstone.
Poundstone is a well-known figure at the Capitol. According to a 1995 report, she was the state's eighth-best-compensated lobbyist from January through May of that year. A constitutional amendment limiting Denver's annexation powers bears her name, and in 1990 she lobbied hard and successfully to permit limited stakes gaming in Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and Central City.
In August 1990, Bravo added a provision to its articles of incorporation. Signed by Kevin Doyle, it pledged that "no substantial part of the activities of this corporation shall be the carrying on of propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation...(or to) participate in any political campaign on behalf of or against any candidate for public office."
Despite that commitment, in the past two years alone Bravo has written checks totaling $60,000 to Poundstone for "legislative consulting."
Although Poundstone lists Bravo as one of her clients on state lobbying disclosure forms, she doesn't mention Concerned Parents for Education. Through CPE, the Doyles have given Poundstone another $39,000 since 1995. And since early last year, Bravo has been making the $500 monthly payments on Poundstone's car; that, too, fails to appear on the lobbyist's disclosure forms. A spokeswoman for the secretary of state's Elections Division says a complaint would have to be filed against Poundstone in order for any sanctions to be levied against her for non-disclosure. So far, no such complaint has been filed.
"I have tried to figure out why the Doyles would donate as much money as they have to Freda Poundstone," Lambrecht says. "There's absolutely no bingo-related legislation going through right now, and I haven't seen anything in the past couple years, either. I've tried to look at it as, What's in it for them? And all I can figure is that their way of living is paid for through bingo."
Other critics see the payoff as coming through more lenient regulation by Buckley, culminating in her removal of the two bingo investigators from the Doyle case last month. That is a conclusion the secretary of state strongly disputes.
Buckley concedes that she knows Kevin Doyle from her early days working in the secretary of state's office, but she says she has not met with him for many years. And, while Buckley has known Poundstone since 1972, she says she hasn't been lobbied by her since she took office just over two years ago. "There hasn't been any bingo legislation," the secretary of state points out.
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So why would a bingo-promoting organization pay Poundstone more than $100,000? "I can't comment on that one," Buckley says. "You'll have to ask her."
Poundstone isn't talking, but others are. "I would hope that Vicki wouldn't take [Ryan and Green] off this investigation because of her close ties to all this that's going on," says the Bingo Bugle's Bauerkemper. "But I just don't know.
"I think the Doyles are in bingo for their own personal gain," he adds. "Why would one family be so dedicated to working bingo seven nights a week?"
"It may not sound real," says Winnie Doyle. "But that's who we are.