Newsday (Erik German) spotlights the peculiar world of local charity bingo in a story about games run by a charity in Coram, New York that calls itself the Suffolk Independent Living Organization (more about that in a bit). The story was also picked up by WCBS in New York, which offers a video segment that appears to show the bingo hall.
The organization's volunteer coordinator, Sverna Bradley, quit last November after the organization's director Edward Ahern [sic] questioned the accounting for the bingo games, which were supervised by volunteers.
Ms. Bradley then complained to officials in the town of Brookhaven, where Coram is located, that Mr. Ahern has asked her to skim $10,000 cash from the bingo proceeds. But when the town started investigating, it found more significant discrepancies, perhaps as much as $500,000 due to unrecorded receipts, and turned over the investigation to the district attorney—all this according to an unnamed official with the town.
Charity bingo is supervised by local townships in New York, but it's not exactly small business: just in Suffolk county New York, the annual take for charity bingo operations is $17 million.
There is no Suffolk Independent Living Organization in the IRS nonprofit database. After quite a bit of digging I was able to find an organization named Self Initiated Living Options (EIN 11-2721260 Form 990) in Hauppauge, New York which claims the web site of SILO and has an executive director by the name of Edward Ahearn, who receives just $59,971 in salary and $5,336 in benefits.
SILO's entire annual income is just over $600,000, about two-thirds of that from a government grant. Bingo for three nights a week brings in $82,564 (roughly $500 a night or $1,500 a week). Expenses associated with bingo are listed as $700, which would be consistent with a volunteer-run organization (presuming, of course, that no other expenses, like rent and utilities, were allocated to the bingo operation). Unless there's a whole lot of skimming going on, it's hard to see how this bingo game could lose track of a half million dollars.
Looking into this story (which Charity Governance picked up), I found that the biggest bingo winners in Brookhaven were probably the town's part time bingo inspectors, who up until this year's budget were entitled to health benefits (Brookhaven budget narrative - Word document).
I'm skeptical about the claim that a half million is missing here, but there's no doubt in my mind that running a regular cash bingo game with nothing but volunteers is asking for trouble. I wonder about the wisdom of any charity (—or church, obviously) that pays its managers rock bottom salaries and also makes them responsible for operations that involve significant amounts of cash receipts. Some of them won't know or care about cash controls, while others are going to succumb to the temptation to skim. Cash controls in such organizations have to be solid and strictly enforced.