HONEY BROOK - Fundraising activities on behalf of the Honey Brook Community Library by an apparently unregistered charity have drawn the attention of law enforcement authorities.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Police barracks at Embreevillle, which has jurisdiction over Honey Brook, said last Wednesday that troopers had begun reviewing actions surrounding the library, with the aim of determining whether any criminal conduct involving members of the library's board of trustees had occurred.
However, Lt. Brian Naylor, the spokesman, declined to detail specifically what the troopers would be looking into.
Chester County District Attorney Joseph Carroll, however, said last Friday that he had passed the matter concerning the library's fundraising efforts on to state police after questions were posed by [a sister paper] about poker tournaments that a member of the library's board was conducting.
In addition, former library Treasurer Bill Ryan said last Thursday the investigation concerned a series of no limit Texas Hold-'Em poker tournaments that were sponsored by another organization in connection with the library.
"I think it is not as much an investigation of criminal activity by the board, but rather a question of questionable fundraising," said Ryan. "Someone called the district attorney about the Texas Hold-'Em tournaments, and what they are investigating is to find out if the tournaments were legal or suitable."
Ryan said this is an issue that affects many Chester County organizations, not just the library.
In response to questions about the state police review, outgoing board President Vince Orencia said if any legal violations occurred, they came because of a lack of knowledge of the law, not malice on the part of any board member.
Board Vice President JoAnn Powers, Orencia's stepdaughter, who was responsible for running the poker tournaments, declined to comment about the investigation. Board members Frances Hagee and Pam York could not be reached for comment.
Questions about the poker tournaments follow the library board's decision to fire library director Paula McGinness.
The events were apparently held at the Honey Brook Lions Club and were conducted by Powers under the auspices of Honey Brook Harmony Day, a charity that she and her family members are involved with that has raised money for the Boy Scouts and other groups, in addition to the library.
The tournaments have been noted as part of library activities in the board's minutes, without reference to Honey Brook Harmony Day. At least three have been held since March 2006.
The board's April 1, 2006, minutes indicate a Texas Hold-'Em tournament March 27, 2006, raised $3,000 for the library. An entry in the minutes dated Aug. 28, 2006, indicates that Powers planned a tournament for Oct.7 to raise money to purchase a new copier for the library. The Jan. 8 minutes state, however, the funds raised from that tournament were used to purchase six 8-foot tables.
The last tournament came up in discussion at the Feb. 26, 2007, board meeting, and it was held March 31, 2007. A $4,000 sign for the library also was among the purchases made as a result of proceeds gathered from the tournaments.
Powers told those who attended a board meeting last Monday that a professional dealer was used to run the tournaments; however, she declined to comment last Tuesday as to whether the prize exceeded the legal limit, only saying a donation was made to the library from the tournaments.
Under Pennsylvania law, table games such as Texas Hold-'Em are considered illegal gambling if the maximum available prize exceeds the buy-in amount, such as if the buy-in is $100 and the prize is $200. During the last game, the buy-in was $100 and the prize was based upon the number of people participating.
The district attorney's office, however, typically doesn't prosecute such cases unless the investigation turns up evidence the proceeds were used for other than charitable purposes. Usually, such charities are ordered not to hold any further tournaments, according to a law enforcement source who asked not to be identified.
A check of the Department of State's records indicates it has no record that Honey Brook Harmony Day is a registered charity; however, it is unclear as to whether the organization raises more than $25,000 annually. Charities that make less than that amount are not legally required to register with the state.
Powers defended the tournaments last Monday night by comparing them with bingo games conducted by charitable organizations, such as churches.
Orencia said his stepdaughter was unaware that the tournament Hold-'Em was potentially illegal. He says his family cares about the local community, and their civic activities are for the benefit of those they serve, not their own self-interest.
"There wasn't any malice in any of her intent," Orencia said. "She is not in it for herself because she donates to the Boy Scouts, the library and (other organizations). There are even pictures of her in the paper presenting her donations."