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Hawaiian Gardens Vote Puts Nonprofit Bingo Back on Playing Table

September 15, 1988|JAMES M. GOMEZ | Times Staff Writer

HAWAIIAN GARDENS — After a seven-month hiatus, the largest charitable bingo game in Southern California is expected to be back in business soon.

The City Council Tuesday night gave the final OK for a foundation controlled by millionaire developer Dr. Irving I. Moskowitz to reopen the failed Cooper Fellowship Bingo Parlor under a new name: Nu-Towne Bingo.

The council approved Moskowitz's bingo license hours after Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department investigators initially recommended disapproval. But Deputy Tony Sciacca, who led a background investigation of Moskowitz's nonprofit organization, later changed his recommendation after the foundation's lawyers promised to correct three alleged violations of the state bingo law.

The once highly successful bingo parlor located on Carson Street and Pioneer Boulevard could begin operating immediately, according to city officials, although spokesmen for Moskowitz declined to speculate when the parlor's doors would open.

City Will Profit

The approval also means that the city's suffering revenues will be increased by annual license fees amounting to a 1% share of the parlor income. During its heyday, Cooper Fellowship collected $24 million yearly in bingo proceeds.

"Whatever (Moskowitz) does turns to gold," Mayor Kathleen Navejas said after the three-vote council approval. City Councilwoman H. M. (Lennie) Wagner was absent and City Councilman Donald E. Schultze abstained. The vote came two months after the council lifted a year-old ban on new bingo licenses.

"I feel Moskowitz and the people who are going to come into the city are a very honest, professional group of people that are not going to let the city down," Navejas added.

Bingo operators, expecting council approval, began circulating stacks of advertising flyers throughout the square-mile city over the weekend. And dozens of volunteer workers began meeting last week inside the revamped, 611-seat auditorium learning to call numbers.

'Ready to Go'

"They are ready to go," said Mayor Pro Tem Rosalie M. Sher. "Hopefully they are going to be very successful and we are going to get some revenue in the city. It is something we can use right now."

Cerritos Gardens Central Hospital Company, a Long Beach firm owned by Moskowitz, purchased the former Cooper Fellowship property for a reported $4 million last May, according to county records. Moskowitz, a Florida resident, owns medical centers and commercial property in Hawaiian Gardens, Long Beach and Lakewood.

The nonprofit Cooper Fellowship, which also runs an alcohol rehabilitation center in Santa Ana, closed its Hawaiian Gardens doors in February after operating the game for five years.

The nonprofit corporation sold the Carson Street building in March for $3.5 million, according to county records.

Under state law, proceeds of any nonprofit game are to be given to charity. For instance, the Cooper Fellowship donated up to $10,000 a month to the Hawaiian Garden Social Service Agency, run by Navejas' husband, Carlos.

But according to Sciacca, only 10% of the county's $100 million in bingo proceeds from 144 operations last year actually reached needy organizations. Most of the other bingo games are small operations, located in churches, veterans' posts and private schools, Sciacca said.

He added that the Hawaiian Gardens parlor is by far the largest operation in Southern California. "The others all tie for a close second," Sciacca said.

Rental Rate Revised

Moskowitz's 20-year-old, nonprofit charitable organization applied for the Hawaiian Gardens license June 7. It had initially arranged to pay $20,037 in monthly rent to the Cerritos Gardens Central Hospital Company for use of the facilities, according to the sheriff's investigation.

That figure was later amended when Sciacca noted that the rental payment exceeded the $1,000 state limit.

Attorney Beryl Weiner, who testified at the council meeting that investigators' concerns had been met by that afternoon, told council members that "we intend to comply fully and literally" with state law.

Sciacca testified that legal problems "have been eliminated."

In his report, Sciacca also had noted that the Carson Street building is not the foundation's "principle office or meeting place," and that the foundation planned to pay some workers from bingo proceeds.

He also said that the department was not satisfied with the foundation's tax-exempt status. City Atty. Maurice F. O'Shea said that he "called Sacramento myself and confirmed that they are in good standing."

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