On March 8, 2018, Flagler Cats Bingo got a permit from Flagler Beach government to open a business at 2515 Moody Boulevard, Flagler Square Plaza, the same strip mall as Badcock Home Furniture. The business opened on April 21, 2018. It was associated with Flagler Cats, donating proceeds to the spay and neuter non-profit that’s been operating in Bunnell in one form or another since 2004, under the leadership of Mari Molina.
In early afternoon today, Flagler Cats Bingo posted the following message on its Facebook page: “Unfortunately, as of today, we are closed. We hope everyone has a merry Christmas & a happy new year! Sorry for any inconvenience. Check back for updates.”
The storefront was the subject of a raid by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, which had been investigating Flagler Cats Bingo undercover the three months on tips that illegal gambling was allegedly taking place inside.
Detectives seized what are believed to be 48 individual electronic gambling machines, computers and documents the sheriff’s office says were used in violation of law, to keep a gambling house. Detectives also seized $5,700, believed to be gambling proceeds.
The investigation revealed that the business “was actually operating seven days a week and had multiple gaming machines that were accepting cash and patrons would be paid cash for their winnings,” a sheriff’s release stated. Actual incident or investigative reports were not available Thursday as the investigation was still in progress. But a warrant was served on the business. “The State of Florida has specific guidelines for ‘Bingo,’ however, during the undercover operations, it was discovered that Bingo was never played and patrons solely used the electronic gaming machines.”
The sheriff’s office says in its release that the business is owned by Gregory Irwin. That does not appear to be the case, however.
The owner is Mari Molina, who signed the business tax receipt at the Flagler Beach Building department on Feb. 19, 2018, according to documents, and called the business “Flagler Cats Inc.” on city documentation, not Flagler Cats Bingo. The business marquee in the shopping center is “Flagler Cats.” Molina described the business as “non-profit organization and bingo fund-raising,” and listed it as the “administrative headquarters,” under Flagler Cats Inc. “Mari is the only name that is on it,” a Flagler Beach building official said today.
Molina appears to have told a somewhat different story to sheriff’s detectives. “Molina arrived on scene and stated that she allows Flagler Cats Bingo to use the Flagler Cats title in return for donations to her clinic,” the sheriff’s release states. “Molina stated that she was unaware of the illegal gambling machines and did not have any involvement in the gambling operation.” Molina did not return a call placed to her business in Bunnell, before the initial publication of this article.
Molina incorporated Flagler Cats as a non-profit, initially in 2004 as Second Chance Rescue. Molina changed it to Flagler Cats in 2010. She is listed currently as president of the organization, operating out of 2550 North State Street in Bunnell, with Sara Crewe and Mary Rosenstengel as officers in the company.
Irwin is not listed in the documents, though his name is in the division’s database, associated with Flagler Cats, because of his title as secretary in 2016 and 2015. He does not appear to have had an official association with the company since, at least not in state documentation, and not in city documents. A Gregory Irwin could not be found associated with a local business called “Flagler Cats Bingo” in the Division of Corporations’ online documentation, nor could Flagler Cats Bingo.
Molina, often known as the Cat Lady, and Flagler Cats have been active in trap, neuter, release (or TNR) campaigns and continue to play a prominent role in neutering cats. “Our 2019 goal is 2,000 cats we are 1,876 help us meet our goal. Get those cats spay or neuter,” the organization’s Facebook page, separate from Flagler cats Bingo, stated earlier this month.
After it opened a year and a half ago, Flagler Cats Bingo used its Facebook page to advertise various bingo events and “pull tab” games. Last July, for example, Flagler Cats advertised “Christmas In July: Bingo and Dinner” at Flagler Cats Bingo in Flagler Beach, charging an entry fee of $30. There was a similar event in May, Ladies Bingo Nite, also for a $30 entry fee. Pictures from that event posted on Flagler Cats’s Facebook page show participants and a few machines arrayed against the walls of the establishment, but none of the machines resemble those that appear in photographs the sheriff disseminated today.
But the sheriff’s office is alleging that’s not quite what was happening there.
Patrons at the business when the warrant was served were briefly detained, their names taken. They could potentially face misdemeanor charges. “Historically we don’t often charge the patrons because they’re led to believe it’s a legitimate operation,” a sheriff’s spokesperson said. But charges are possible against operators of the business.