A civic association is grateful to those who helped wrestle their organization from the hands of a swindler.
By STEVE THOMPSON
Published December 5, 2005
PORT RICHEY - The wall that a con man built across their bingo hall was gone. The disco ball was back in place, spinning Saturday night over a new parquet dance floor.
And a three-piece band, saxophone, drums, and accordion, got the party started.
We're gonna have a good time tonight,
Let's celebrate, it's all right.
Meanwhile, about 40 miles away, Estel "Zeke" Blevins was somewhere inside the Zephyrhills Correctional Institution, with most of a three-year prison sentence still ahead of him.
The good times are long overdue for members of The New Lakes in Regency Park Civic Association. Their old club, the Lakes in Regency Park Civic Association, was dissolved in early 2003 in an elaborate fraud by Blevins. And after that, he ran them out of their clubhouse.
It took more than a year of fighting him, a civil suit, and finally a criminal trial, which Blevins interrupted by pleading no contest on March 23, to get it back.
Saturday night was the grand reopening.
"Pretty good," said club president Marty Marks, 79, surveying the crowd of close to 200. "Not a bad turnout."
He pulled some slips of paper out of his pocket and counted.
"Eight people joined the club tonight," he said.
Marks headed a long table full of special dinner guests. These were people the members wanted to thank for helping wrestle the club back from Blevins.
They included: prosecutor Eric Rosario, who argued the case against Blevins; Pasco County sheriff's Capt. Alan Weinstein, who oversaw his capture; state Sen. Mike Fasano, who spoke against him at a county development meeting; and tax attorney Tony Dennison, who gave the club civil representation on the cheap.
The club also recognized the St. Petersburg Times , which brought the fraud to light and detailed Blevins' history as a con artist.
With the club's fight against Blevins fading into history Saturday night, the new dance floor filled up.
And within a few months, the club members hope to start bingo again.