B Zero

Cops say nonprofits and their landlord were gaming the bingo laws.

Rosenberg, who fled Nazi Germany as a child, is a salty former campaign consultant who has managed four halls in Northern California. He lurched forward in his seat when questioned by a reporter about his profit from the bingo rent, barking, "They couldn't make a fucking dime if I weren't here!" He says he provides a clean, fully equipped space with ample parking, plus security and maintenance staff. Indeed, the nonprofits seem to benefit from the high-capacity property, making more than twice the $80,000 St. Paul's Church in Noe Valley reports making annually from weekly games at the parish hall.

Police say Rosenberg's role goes far beyond that of landlord. He and his lawyer made a presentation to the SFPD asking for permission to install electronic bingo machines, which Rosenberg says brought in additional hundreds of thousands of dollars for two years until police told him to stop late last year. (The type of e-bingo played at Army Street will be illegal in California starting January 1.) He was the trustee of the account into which the nonprofits paid their e-bingo earnings, from which he says he later cut them equal checks. Commingling funds and sharing the profits from other nonprofits' sessions is prohibited. By law, only nonprofits can handle bingo accounts.

The city attorney is reviewing a 1991 letter from that office to the then-police chief, which the nonprofits say excuses them from the $500-a-month cap on overheads. But if that cap stands, many other bingo operators in the city are in violation of the 1970s-era law, and argue it would be impossible not to be. Father Mario Farana of St. Paul's says the supplies for the games cost about $2,000 a month. Coggan admits that maybe the law should be updated, but says that the police's job is to enforce the existing statutes.

The limit on overheads is not the only example of what the Army Street charities call "selective enforcement." While the charities say they've lowered their prizes to the legal limit of $250 since the November hearing, other nonprofits and churches in San Francisco who received 2009 permits without a problem were advertising prizes of up to $2,500 in December's issue of the Bingo Bugle, the bingo community newspaper. Informed of this by a reporter, Coggan's response was a baleful "Oh, man."

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