In a Pickle
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.
One of the letters was from Vickie Corder. Corder declined Westword's request for an interview, saying only that "Kevin Doyle has ruined my life" before hanging up. But she has spoken to others.
Earlier this year, Buckley asked Michael Knight, chief deputy investigator for the Arapahoe County District Attorney's office, to look into the allegations that Ryan and Greene had stolen $500 from one of the Doyles' bingo games and to determine whether the men could be criminally prosecuted for their behavior. Corder was one of the people Knight interviewed during the course of his investigation.
Portions of the interview with Corder are contained in Knight's report; they suggest that the Doyles orchestrated the suspension of the state investigators.
"Corder is a big Pickle player and very familiar with Kevin Doyle from playing in the bingo halls in both Aurora and Arvada," Knight wrote in his June 5 report. "Kevin Doyle approached her and a couple other players who were also big Pickle players about writing a complaint on the bad conduct of two investigators from the secretary of state's office. Doyle said to them, 'I know you're down [money]. If you want a chance to get back some money I want you to write these complaints.' Doyle handed them each a piece of spiral notebook paper with a complaint already written out and then asked they rewrite the complaints in their own handwriting then send them off to the secretary of state...Corder [says she] was not even present on the night that her complaint was regarding."
Corder also described in detail how Doyle apparently began paying her back for her cooperation in his campaign against the state investigators. "On one occasion," Knight wrote, "Kevin Doyle gave Vickie Corder a stack of 25 Pickles. In the middle of the stack was a Pickle with a yellow sticky note attached that had the number 50 written on it. Corder opened the Pickle and found that it was a $50 winner. Vickie Corder then took this Pickle to Doyle to ask him what the meaning of this was. And he told her that he was glad that she brought this to his attention because others might not understand that this was an act of God helping her win money. Doyle knows that Corder is very religious."
Such inside information--which tickets are winners and for how much--is illegal for obvious reasons: Games could easily be manipulated, and game managers might be tempted to enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of ordinary bingo players.
Corder also provided other interesting information--for instance, the strange phone call from Buckley herself: "After Corder sent the complaint [to the secretary of state's office about Ryan and Greene] she received a call from Vikki Buckley asking for Jeffrey Corder, her husband," Knight reported. "Corder thought it was strange for Buckley to ask for her husband because she had only put her name on the complaint and not her husband's."
Buckley was out of town last week and unavailable for comment.
During the course of her phone conversation with Buckley, Corder said, she told the secretary of state that she wanted to withdraw her complaint against the two investigators.
Knight dropped his investigation of Ryan and Greene a month ago, concluding that there was no basis for criminal charges against the men. Yet despite his report and despite Corder's suggestion that the whole campaign against Ryan and Greene was fabricated by Doyle, Buckley has persisted in pursuing disciplinary action against the two men. This spring she wrote a letter of reprimand to be placed in each investigator's permanent file.
While Greene has accepted the punishment, Ryan has not. On May 28 Ryan filed a grievance against Buckley, contending that the secretary of state "has persisted in creating and cultivating a hostile work environment that is intimidating and clearly demeaning." The reason for Buckley's antagonistic behavior, he suggested, was that she was being influenced by her political supporters, Poundstone and the Doyles.
"The damaging and detrimental actions of the Secretary of State that have been directed towards me have a common nexus," Ryan wrote. "The nexus is a group of allegedly charitable organizations, which conduct bingo/raffle activities under license issued from the Secretary of State. These organizations are controlled, primarily by the Doyle family and certain key associates. Two of these organizations, the Bingo/Raffle Association of Volunteer Organizations and Concerned Parents for Education, have made questionable payments to a prominent lobbyist, Freda Poundstone...
"Coincidental to these questionable activities is the fact that Freda Poundstone hosted fundraising parties at her home on behalf of Secretary of State Victoria Buckley. At these fundraising activities, BRAVO furnished food and drink."
According to the civil-service rules governing state employees, Ryan's charges against Victoria Buckley were heard by...Victoria Buckley. She denied his grievance; he is appealing that decision.
The Doyles are not off the hook, however. In her interview, Corder told Knight that Kevin Doyle had taken checks she'd given him as security while she played and then, instead of tearing them up at the conclusion of the bingo games, deposited the money into his personal account. Doyle had taken thousands of dollars from her in this way, Corder charged.
The alleged thefts took place at the Arvada Bingo Corral on West 58th Avenue. "We'd sure be interested in following up on what Ms. Corder had to say about the Doyles," says Knight, "but it's outside our jurisdiction." So two weeks ago the Arapahoe County investigator turned over the information to the Jefferson County District Attorney's office, which last week handed it off to the Arvada Police Department. "We are indeed investigating Mr. Kevin Doyle for theft," a spokeswoman there says.
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