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Bingo controversy brings mystery money to light

(ran PW, PS editions)

Out of the city's bingo controversy comes the case of the mystery money.

Council regular John King handed out a packet of photocopied checks and campaign donation records before starting an argument with City Manager Vince Lupo over how long he had to talk about them at Tuesday night's meeting.

The first page of copies were of three $500 checks made out to Mayor Eloise Taylor, Council member Bill Bennett and former Council candidate Jim Priest in March 2001. The checks were drawn on the account of AMBAS Tours Inc., owned by the Kolokithas family.

The next page was those checks being voided out.

The next two pages were checks written in 2002 for a total of $2,500 in cash. On the memo lines were "Political Contributions."

So the mystery is: Who got the money?

Bennett, Taylor and Priest all said they never got any money _ checks or otherwise _ from the Kolokithas family. Bennett and Priest both said they never knew the checks existed and called it a political game.

Mollie Kolokithas said Wednesday she thought the $2,500 went to Priest, but "I can't verify that was done." She said she gives money to candidates all the time through her companies, but she doesn't handle the money and "I don't ask who I give to."

"I don't see the paper trail," she said.

And King left Tuesday night before talking about the packet he gave to the council. Wednesday, he said he asked Kolokithas if she gave to candidates, and Kolokithas gave him the checks.

Who got the money, or if anyone got money, King doesn't know.

"I'd sure like to find something out," he said.

_ Matthew Waite covers Port Richey city government. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waitesptimes.com.

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