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May 20, 2013 6:22 PM

6 Investigates: Charity Bingo Follow-Up

CORPUS CHRISTI -- An organization featured previously on 6 News for not giving much money to charity from their charity bingo events is now under investigation by the Texas Lottery Commission. There's another group that uses the same bingo hall also under investigation by its own state leadership.

We began looking into the Columbian Ladies of South Texas because they had high bingo sales with a very small donation to their non-profit. The ladies told us they do charity work to help Our Lady of Guadalupe church and that they are the wives of the Knights of Columbus 6174, which is affiliated with that same church.

The problem is, church leaders say they're getting nothing from the Columbian Ladies and they wonder if the Knights of Columbus are donating what they should and connections between the two groups and the bingo hall bother some people.

"The members are the wives of the Knights of Columbus, from Our Lady of Guadalupe," Minnie Pena told us in a prior interview. She is president of Columbian Ladies of South Texas. In our initial report, she and other members could not explain why their charitable contribution from big bingo proceeds was so small.

"As far as proceeds paid out last year and why its only $7,000, there's not a clear answer to give you, not right now," said Secretary Rachel Lozano.

That $7,000 from what we can tell went to scholarships, but, what about the church? "We help our church, the Lady of Guadalupe Church," member Betty Constante told us when we walked in on a bingo game last month.

But, its that affiliation that really bothered members at Our Lady of Guadalupe. They say the church has not seen a dime of the bingo money from the Columbian Ladies in years.

"I personally would like very much to see that money come back to the church, and if its not going to come back to the church then let them stop saying its coming to our church," said Nicole Segovia. She's been going to the church for decades.

The Knights of Columbus 6174 conduct games at the same bingo hall as the ladies, remember it's their wives who participate in the Columbian ladies group. This chapter also claims affiliation with Our Lady of Guadalupe church and they have donated to the church. State lottery records show a charitable donation of $47,878 after $1,249,600 in gross receipts.

Because of concerns about the group, the Texas State Council of the Knights of Columbus began investigating council 6174 and ordered them to have "nothing further to do with this bingo operation in any way."

The State Advocate for the Knights of Columbus said there was a conflict of interest, but would not elaborate further.

We did confirm that Minnie Pena and her husband Adalberto, a now former member of the Knights of Columbus, own CC Bingo Hall and the strip mall it sits on.

Texas Charity Bingo rules allow a charge of up to $600 per session in rent. That means, the bingo hall can make up to $1,200 a day, that's more than $36,400 a month and $436,800 per year.

Adalberto Pena recently resigned from the Knights of Columbus. His wife says it's because they wanted to tell him how to run his business.

Minnie, it seems, has more business of her own, she's listed as co-owner of the snack bar inside the bingo hall. Remember, she also gets paid by her charity, $75 a session, when she works there.

"Are you here to help the charity or are you here to help yourselves," we asked Minnie in a previous interview.

"Okay, because we used to do it volunteer and there were no workers, we started paying, plenty of workers, nobody's going to work free," Minnie replied.

Back at the church the bingo is set up to help, some parishioners say the donations to charity, or lack thereof, are a big disappointment.

"We have to work so hard to make a couple thousand dollars on a raffle or something and yet, there's all this money that could go to the church," said Segovia.

The Lottery Commission actually tells us its not uncommon to have a bingo hall owner involved in a charity that operates at that hall and that is not a lottery commission violation.

The Knights of Columbus State Council wants to make it very clear that there is no relationship between Columbian Ladies and the Knights of Columbus and in fact they sent a cease and desist letter to the ladies on May 6th demanding they stop using the Knights of Columbus emblem and the word columbian.

Their investigation should wrap up soon.

The Texas Lottery Commission Columbian Ladies investigation is also in progress, we'll keep you updated on both.

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