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Ohio Says Charity Gets Rich Off Chernobyl Kids

CLEVELAND (CN) - The Ohio Attorney General claims a Cleveland charity that claims to raise money for children of Chernobyl pockets the money from its bingo games by using "black market tickets." Ethnic Voice of America and its operators are accused of "conducting bingo and instant bingo without complying with Ohio Law" and of being unable to account for large withdrawals from their charitable accounts.

Defendants include George Smirnov and Irene Kalada Smirnov, both of Parma, Ohio, and Ginger Drago of Westlake.

Irene Kalada Smirnov created Ethnic Voice of America in 1990 to "encourage the interest of all ethnic and non ethnic people of this country unique in their customs, traditions, cultures and heritage in the American way of good government," according to the complaint.

Its Web site refers to Irene Kalada Smirnov, in broken English, as an "artist, singer, star and magician" whom the children of Chernobyl know as the "star kind soul and heart."

The Web site claims that Kalada Smirnov was shocked when she returned to Belarus and found that there "were done so little conditions for Chernobyl children." When she returned to America she says she "created charitable organization The Ethnic Voice of America."

The Web site claims that every year she "receives thousands of letters from children she has helped and if collected together it would be enough to create a small book." It adds that Irene is "the best example for us."

State investigators disguised themselves as patrons at bingo games held by Ethnic Voice of America on three occasions in 2008 and "purchased bingo tickets during these visits and subsequently compared ticket serial numbers" with the submitted records for these games.

Ethnic Voice of America's bingo workers failed to "track the sales of 23 out of the 60 separate instant bingo ticket deals purchased," and investigators said they found that many of the "untracked bingo tickets were from out of state non-licensed bingo distributors."

Ohio law requires all "licensed charitable organizations to purchase bingo tickets from a distributor licensed by the Ohio Attorney General's Office." Ethnic Voices concealed its purchases by making cash transactions and using fake names and addresses, the state says. Selling the fake tickets with real tickets allegedly allowed the business to pocket more than $200,000.

Ohio seeks an injunction to stop Ethnic Voices and its members from "all further charitable solicitations" and wants the business's assets frozen. It also seeks restitution, compensation and punitive damages, to be distributed to the appropriate charitable organizations.

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