2 Bay Area Ministers Guilty of Soliciting Bingo Permit Bribe

Associated Press

A minister who serves on the Oakland Commission of Public Charities has been convicted of soliciting a $20,000 bribe from a bingo hall operator in exchange for securing a bingo game permit.

The Rev. Whitney Lester, 69, was convicted Friday after jury deliberations that took a week and a trial that lasted three weeks. Also convicted of soliciting a bribe was Dr. Eddie Welbon, 45, a San Francisco minister and Lester's alleged middleman.

The two will be sentenced on May 13 by Alameda County Superior Court Judge William R. McGuiness.

Attorneys for the two defendants claimed that there was bias against their clients because they are ministers and are black. The seven-woman, five-man jury was white, except for one Filipino. Welbon said the case was "like a Mississippi setup."

During the trial the prosecution presented eight witnesses in an effort to prove that Lester and Welbon sought monthly payments from bingo parlor operator Robert McKnight in exchange for securing operating permits for him.

Welbon allegedly approached McKnight in the spring and said that Lester would promise McKnight additional permits for bingo games at his hall in exchange for the money. When the commission held up his permits for charitable groups wanting to use his hall, McKnight went to the police.

Jurors heard a tape recording of an Aug. 18 meeting in which McKnight complained that the solicited payments were too high and Lester allegedly replied on the tape: "With my reputation and everything, I'm sure not going down the drain for no few dollars."

Welbon and Lester were arrested by Oakland police after the meeting.

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