By Howard Ballou - bio | email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - A Ridgeland charity won't be able to benefit from a bingo parlor it operates in Olive Branch anymore. That's because the Mississippi Gaming Commission has snatched the license of Boxcar Bingo after an investigation into questionable spending by The Fine Arts Institute of Mississippi.
It's an investigation WLBT first told you about on Tuesday.
That's when executive director Bill Murphy said, "We've made a couple of mistakes, none of which are serious or none of which have been breaking the law."
But the mistakes he admits to are apparently enough for the Mississippi Gaming Commission to pull the license of Boxcar Bingo. The Olive Branch operation has raked in millions of dollars for the charity Murphy runs in Ridgeland.
Larry Gregory, exective director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said, "Very simply put, they were not giving monies to charity as bingo is supposed to do. They run a bingo operation and bingo is setup for one reason and that is to give money to charity."
One of the reasons the State Gaming Commission pulled the license for Boxcar Bingo is because Fine Arts set up a contract with another charitable organization back in 2005.
Gregory said, "Just dead wrong to be entering into any agreement with that group or any other group. I mean that money was set up for their charity, which is FAIM, 40-percent and that money did not go to where it was intended to go."
That group is Mississippi Youth Activities and Recreation Team, inc or MYART. It is run, in part, by Lynn Johnson. She is the wife of Madison County supervisor, Tim Johnson who attended Thursday's hearing. He was paid a total of 24-thousand-500 dollars in 2007 and 2008 by The Fine Arts Institute. His job was to lobby the state legislature on behalf of Boxcar Bingo to reform charitable bingo law.
As for the secretary of state's office, Gregory says: "They're looking at what these expenses were, what kind of monies were spent and they're currently conducting their investigation right now so they're looking into the charity aspect; I've looked into the bingo aspect."
Pam Weaver, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office said, "Well, unfortunately Howard, it is the position of the Secretary of State's office not to comment, confirm or deny any investigation that our office conducts. We do want to to tell the public that we are committed to being fair, open and transparent and we'll release all information as the time is appropriate."
Bill Murphy defends his charity saying The Fine Arts Institute has managed to put 130-thousand dollars into the arts community this year despite tough economic times.
He says he will appeal the gaming commission's decision.