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Treasurer drained Elks Lodge cash to fund gambling at local arcades

(Week of May 16, 2013)
, Photo of former treasurer Andrew Simso.

The Sebastian Elks Lodge No. 2714 on Fleming Street is trying to determine just how much money is missing after police say the group’s treasurer withdrew cash from ATMs to gamble at adult arcades and internet cafes in the Sebastian area.

While the Sebastian Police Department is engaged in an active investigation and the amount taken from an Elks account now stands at roughly $86,000, the former treasurer, identified as Andrew Simso, 68, has not been arrested.

Bank statements from the lodge indicated Simso used the money he purloined from the Elks account to gamble at Al’s Place just south of Sebastian, the Gold Mine Arcade, the Coin Castle in the Sebastian-Roseland area, and the Wild Cherry Arcade in Micco, to name a few.

The internet cafés and arcades throughout Florida were closed six weeks ago after the Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed a law cracking down on strip mall gaming.

Exactly how long Simso was dipping into the Elks’ funds remains unclear. Sebastian police said the cash went missing over an 11-year period starting in June 2002. Simso, however, said that as treasurer he did nothing wrong until late 2012.

Simso said he has paid much of the money back and is in the process of making the lodge whole. “That’s all being taken care of, they’re being paid back the money and if it’s paid back there will be no charges filed,” Simso said during a telephone interview with our sister paper Sebastian River News.

Simso was named the lodge’s Officer of the Year in 2008 for his “unselfish efforts in organizing the financial aspects of the Lodge,” according to a press release posted on the web in March 2008.

“I was the treasurer a long time. Everything was above the board until the past five or six months,” Simso said.

Reportedly, the lodge’s newest president, called the exalted ruler, James O’Neill, is a retired law enforcement officer and, for his comfort, he ordered a full audit of the books when he took over in March. O’Neill, was out of town and unavailable for comment as of deadline.

Simso said the money was supposed to be paid back before the controversy arose.

“This should have all been paid back a while back before this came up.  I applied for a refinance through the VA but the value they came up with was too low. They took all the foreclosures and short sales in the area,” he said. “Now I’ve been approved for a loan and the money will be paid back.”

With regard to whether or not the easy access he had to gaming at adult arcades and internet cafes exacerbated the problem, Simso said, “I’m not going to comment about that.”

Simso said he’s not getting any counseling or other help with regard to gambling.

“It just doesn’t bother me anymore,” he said. “I could still go up to Port Canaveral to the ships or I could go to the casinos, but I don’t.”

A source close to the Elks, who declined to be named, said the lodge is reeling from the allegations. No one from the lodge has been cleared to speak publicly about the theft.

They’re “a wonderful, wonderful lot,” the source, said of members of Elks Lodge No. 2714.

Sebastian police spokesman Officer Steve Marcinik said bank statements indicate Simso had been paying back the money taken from the lodge account when he had a winning session gambling. Funds were withdrawn via ATMs found at or near the arcades and internet cafes, and funds were deposited in the same way.

So far, investigators have determined that $47,800 of the approximately $86,000 has been returned to the lodge’s account, Marcinik said. He noted that the deposits ended in April, at about the same time as the arcades and internet cafes were shut down.

The outstanding balance, an estimated $38,800, is less than the $50,000 amount Simso is bonded for as treasurer, according to the police department. That means the club would be made financially whole if the bonding agency pays out.

Marcinik said Simso has been cooperative with the investigation and may have been the one responsible for bringing the thefts to light. He said Simso told either the new treasurer or the new exalted ruler that he owed money to the lodge.

The Sebastian Elks Lodge 2714 is one of more than 2,100 lodges across the nation with 1.1 million members working toward the mission to instill “principles of charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity.” The Elks and its auxiliary ladies’ group offer scholarship programs, Eagle Scout Awards, and emergency educational fund grants, along with various community programs for youth, athletics, veterans, and drug awareness.

When asked if he wanted to say anything to his lodge members or to make a public apology, Simso declined, but he expressed frustration that the theft was made public knowledge.

“This was supposed to be kept within the lodge and the insurance company,” Simso said. “I feel bad that this happened, I feel so stupid. Right now, I’m so ticked off. When all of this is said and done and they’re paid back, I don’t think I’ll be a member there anymore.”