Former borough official charged with running charity scam

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The North Slope Borough's former chief of staff is accused of profiting from a phony charity and using the money, among other things, to send himself to Harvard University.

Anthony Kesler, who resigned from his $135,000 job in 1996, and Patrick Cimino, former president of the Democratic Party's Browerville Precinct, have been charged with scheming to defraud, a felony, and promoting gambling. Kesler, who also was treasurer of the precinct, faces numerous other charges.

Kesler benefited from the alleged scheme in a number of ways, including awarding himself $15,000 in scholarships to study government at Harvard in 1995 and 1996, said Assistant Attorney General Helen Valkavich.

The announcement of that scholarship in a local newspaper was the spark that led to the investigation.

Kesler, 43, was granted a gaming permit in January 1995 to sell pull-tabs under a charitable organization called the Nuvuk Democratic Club, according to papers filed Friday in District Court in Barrow. The following year he asked to renew the permit.

On both applications, Kesler said Nuvuk was connected to the Democratic Party. He said proceeds would go toward political candidates, scholarships, community activities and needy families. His application said he would not receive any compensation.

But instead, said prosecutor Valkavich, ''the primary objective of creating this organization was to obtain money for himself and his relatives.''

Prosecutors say in addition to the scholarships -- the only ones awarded by Nuvuk -- Kesler received $40,000 from gaming proceeds through his business, Pac-Rim, which had a contract to manage the pull-tab operation.

''The contract did not describe what services Pac-Rim was to provide the club,'' court documents said.

State auditors found numerous problems with Nuvuk. They found gaming expenses were paid with cash instead of checks signed by two people, financial statements were inaccurate, and records were poorly maintained.

Of the 33 names on Nuvuk's 1996 membership list, nine had the last name of Kesler and three had the last name of Cimino. Twelve people on the list were not registered to vote in Alaska and only 10 were registered as Democrats.

Auditors found Kesler used cash from Nuvuk to purchase a $2,700 computer and $225 cellular phone. Over the two years, other cash payments totaled $12,700.

Unsold pull-tabs are supposed to be returned to the state Department of Revenue. But instead, according to Kesler, unused games were either thrown away at the local landfill or given to the Native Village of Barrow. More than $315,000 is unaccounted for.

Questions arose in 1995 after a woman read an article in the Arctic Sounder newspaper saying Kesler had received a scholarship from the Nuvuk Democratic Club to go to Harvard. Cora Sagiagok called Nuvuk about getting a scholarship for her daughter, but was told no scholarships were available and there were no applications.

Sagiagok contacted local Democratic Party officials, who called the state party about Nuvuk.

State Party Chairman David Guttenberg said he believed Nuvuk and the Browerville Precinct were one and the same. When Kesler was ordered to hand over the books to the precinct's new officers, he refused, saying Nuvuk was not affiliated with the state party.

Kesler wrote a letter on May 7, 1996, advising state gaming officials that Nuvuk had ceased operations. Two weeks later, Kesler resigned from his job and left Barrow for Hammond, Ore.

William Oberly, Kesler's lawyer, said his client is innocent.

''Tony and I feel he didn't violate any laws,'' Oberly said.

Cimino, 53, is living in Los Angeles. When asked about the gaming operation, he said, ''I don't have any information at all, I'm sorry.''

Kesler and Cimino could be arraigned within a month.

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