Political consultant Rodney Sumler, who has been the focus of a federal investigation of possible political corruption in Winston-Salem, surrendered Friday to face state charges of running illegal bingo games in the city.
Sumler is named in seven of the 51 indictments a Forsyth County grand jury returned this week after a six-month undercover police investigation into bingo operations throughout Winston-Salem.In all, the grand jury brought 81 charges against Sumler and 12 other people, most of whom were arrested Thursday night in a sweep of local bingo parlors.
Three non-profit organizations of which Sumler is president also were each named in three indictments.
After surrendering, Sumler was released on his own recognizance.
Forsyth District Attorney Warren Sparrow said law enforcement officials had received numerous complaints about illegal bingo games in the area, prompting an investigation in which undercover officers attended bingo games and participated.
The charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, concern running bingo games without proper state licenses, paying prize money in excess of legal limits, operating too many bingo sessions per week, paying too many people to run the games and not turning over all the proceeds to non-profit organizations as state law mandates.
``Most people when they hear bingo say, 'So what,' ' Sparrow said. ``But they don't understand the magnitude of the money generated in these operations. And contrary to state law, the charities are not getting the bulk of the money.'
Sparrow said police have told him that some bingo parlors take in more than $200,000 a week. Police believe that much of that money is kept by bingo operators who turn over a flat fee to a non-profit organization for the use of its charter.
Sparrow added that police confiscated more than $20,000 in cash during their dragnet Thursday.
In an interview at his home Friday, Sumler said he has no doubt that some people in Winston-Salem are running illegal bingo operations. But he insisted he and his non-profit organizations are not not guilty of the charges against them.
He said the three Winston-Salem women who help him run his bingo operations - Margaret Bradley, Debbie Childress and Helen Norton - have also been wrongly accused.
``The bingo laws in this state are so crazy and they need to be clarified, but we have always tried to follow them to the letter,' Sumler said.
Sumler produced licenses he received this week from the N.C. Department of Human Resources. They acknowledge the non-profit status of PATH Inc., AC Cultural and Educational Commission, and Atramento Casa, and grant the organizations the authority to operate no more than two bingo sessions per week. Each license cost $100.
Bonnie Senter of the Department of Human Resources confirmed that Sumler's licenses had been renewed. As long as the proper state and federal forms are completed concerning non-profit status, and yearly audits are filed and approved, she said, the department has no reason to suspect illegal activity.
Sumler said the money his organizations generate through bingo are used for a variety of activities in Winston-Salem's black community, including programs for children, neighborhood cleanup efforts and housing improvements.
``We're trying to do some things to help ourselves and our people,' said Sumler, who has been involved in bingo operations since 1984, ``and we get accused unjustly.'
Sumler, who runs a Winston-Salem political consulting firm, has been of interest to investigators since August, when his named surfaced in a federal examination of possible political corruption on the part of three Winston-Salem aldermen, and Greensboro council member Earl Jones.
A federal grand jury has been reviewing evidence for months, but no indictments have been returned.