The city of Santa Ana has charged Cooper Fellowship Inc., a controversial nonprofit group that uses bingo proceeds to run alcoholism-recovery programs, with illegally operating a counseling center out of its West 1st Street offices.
The misdemeanor criminal complaint, filed in Central Municipal Court last month, charges that Cooper Fellowship's founder and executive director, Jack Blackburn, has been operating a counseling center out of the group's administrative offices at 4717 W. 1st St. without the necessary conditional use permit, Deputy City Atty. Thomas Ong said.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Blackburn is scheduled to be arraigned in Municipal Court on Feb. 5.
Blackburn was unavailable for comment. William J. Thom, fellowship spokesman and former Anaheim mayor, referred inquiries about the case to attorney Ronald B. Davis, but Davis was also unavailable for comment.
Santa Ana Mayor Dan Young said the city was cracking down on the fellowship "because we simply can't allow inappropriate uses that are in the wrong zones. . . . It affects the quality of life . . . and to try to get away with it is unconscionable."
The fellowship operates a bingo game in Hawaiian Gardens that has grossed as much as $20 million annually, according to city records.
With the profits, it runs at least nine halfway houses for recovering alcoholics in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Six houses are on Cooper Street in Santa Ana, and were granted zoning variances by the City Council in 1984. The fellowship had plans to open as many as seven more houses in 1985, but their locations were kept secret to forestall neighborhood opposition, fellowship officials have said.
While its bingo operations have been enormously successful, the fellowship has encountered its share of controversy.
In 1985, after a 17-month investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney and a state attorney general's audit, Blackburn and five other Cooper Fellowship associates were charged with receiving illegal salaries from the group's bingo operations. The charges were eventually dropped, Thom said.
In 1981, while treasurer of another alcoholism halfway house that ran bingo games, Blackburn was convicted of conspiracy and laundering campaign contributions.
The laundered contributions went to a recall campaign against two Anaheim City Council members who favored curbs on bingo.
The dispute with Santa Ana stems from the fellowship's move into new headquarters in 1986. In November of that year, Cooper Fellowship obtained an occupancy permit from the city to use a converted industrial building on West 1st Street for offices, associate planner Jeffrey Rice said.
But when code enforcement officials inspected the site on three occasions last year, they found that the fellowship was using the building for its alcoholism-recovery programs, and had set up a recreation center for its clients, Rice said. Neither use is permitted, he said.