The Silicon Valley Voice

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Santa Clara Vanguard Accused of Operating Illegal Bingo Operation

Santa Clara Vanguard makes millions of dollars a year operating bingo out of its building on Space Park Drive near Highway 101. It’s a cash cow that’s helped support the nonprofit for decades and allowed hundreds of young artists to perform at the nation’s highest levels without spending thousands of dollars to do so.

But potential office mismanagement has put the Santa Clara institution in a position where it may be breaking the law and operating an illegal gambling operation.

In a letter dated Sept. 11, 2023, former Vanguard Board Member and Treasurer Richard Lesher asked the Santa Clara City Council and specifically Mayor Lisa Gillmor, who sits on Vanguard’s Board of Directors as an Honorary Member, to take action. Lesher includes documentation that shows Vanguard is not a charity in good standing with the California Department of Justice.


In a memo to Vanguard dated Aug. 25, 2023, the State Department of Justice says Vanguard is “delinquent” with the Registry of Charitable Trusts. Further public records show that Vanguard did not submit a financial audit for 2019, nor did it file with the Registry of Charitable Trusts in 2020 or 2021. As a result, Vanguard has not been registered as a state Charitable Trust since 2021.

“An organization that is listed as delinquent is not in good standing and is prohibited from engaging in conduct for which registration is required, including soliciting or disbursing charitable funds,” writes the Department of Justice.

Lesher says that Vanguard’s inability to solicit donations, combined with the cancelation of the 2023 season, has left the organization in a situation where it could be breaking the law.

California law states that only certain organizations are allowed to operate bingo games (CA Penal Code Sections 326.3 and 326.5) – most specifically ones that are considered tax-exempt under federal law. By not maintaining its charitable designation, Vanguard may be in violation.

What’s more, there are strict laws governing how the funds from bingo are spent. Specifically, that money only be distributed to certain parties and that does not include bingo employees.

Vanguard bingo pays its bingo staff. Lesher says that in the past, the money from membership dues and donations was used to offset the employee costs, keeping Vanguard compliant. However, without those two revenue streams, Lesher believes that Vanguard’s continued operation of bingo has placed it in violation of state law.

Vanguard’s management has been in upheaval over the past few years, with several changeovers in leadership. Most recently, on Sept. 8, Russell Gavin was announced as the new CEO of Vanguard.

He talked to The Weekly about Lesher’s comments. Gavin says that the State’s website is not up to date. He admits that Vanguard is not considered a charity in good standing at the moment but says “delinquent” is not an accurate depiction of the current status. Gavin says the state recognizes that the organization is taking steps to return to compliance and the organization’s status with the state is considered in process.

He also says that he has been “assured” by Vanguard’s lawyers that all the bingo operations are compliant with state law.

The Weekly has been following the current state of Vanguard, including the cancelation of the 2023 season. We will have more details in the coming weeks.

2020-11 an independent audit was required


  1. Alum 2 weeks ago

    Wholly support the Santa Clara Vanguard organization. Richard Lesher’ s actions are surreptitiously done with the aim of taking over control of the organization, as a spurned alumni rejected for a position within the organization. He is sick in the head.

  2. Steve Noll 2 weeks ago

    Unfortunately, Richard Lesher combines just enough truth to make his points without having the full picture. He is an agent of chaos with his own personal grudge that we have seen a lot of this year. Case in point, Richard knows how the Bingo program stays in compliance but does not share that data in this article because he does not have the right to see the organization’s books. VMAPA would not have announced its comeback for 2024 a few days ago (09/08/23) if there was no plan to be fully compliant. Bad article by the Voice making unnecessary noise for an organization that has helped educate 1000’s of kids.

    Sincerely, 1 of 6000 alumni

  3. another alum 2 weeks ago

    As usual, our own fellow adult SCV alum are drilling down on personal attacks when an alum says something publicly or privately that challenges them. I and many others have been on the receiving end of such treatment both as a young member and an adult. No one should be surprised, as this is the exact treatment they lobbed at members for years to get them to learn and perform shows, and even win championships. SCV is not alone in treating dissenting voices this way, as many drum corps have a history of doing so, but we are unique in our cruelty and exactitude.

    Alum have threatened violence over this information. Alum have retaliated against and accosted each other. Alum have been hurting each other and the young marching members for decades. This is nothing new. Don’t they understand that public statements like the others here don’t help their cause, but in fact make us all look worse?

  4. Alum 2 weeks ago

    The “violence” referenced was a sarcastic joke on social media in which the author quickly stated they were clearly not serious and other alum recommended not joking about that.

    • another alum 2 weeks ago

      Thank you for confirming that it happened publicly, I guess?
      Whistleblowers don’t take threats of any kind lightly as well they shouldn’t. As stated above, this “sarcastic joke” threat aside, alum have accosted and retaliated against each other in the past. Nothing new.

  5. Alum 2 weeks ago

    The retaliation referenced is based in 1 report of a member having been “verbally accosted”, 1 case of an alum declining to talk to another alum after discovering that person had been working with Richard Lesher and not taking discussions seriously, and a hypothetical risk of retaliation based on a now-resolved matter of the whistleblowing process being set up to go through an independent third party. A house of cards was built on this very thin basis.

    • Another Alum 2 weeks ago

      No. This is based on numerous reports of retaliation and actual instances of physical intimidation among alum. This is not referring to members. And these examples go beyond those described above. It’s a historical pattern, not just a few recent instances that can be explained away.

      • Don Neidert 2 weeks ago

        Just hope it doesn’t end up like our local bingo game. One of the workers was skimming money from the proceeds. When confronted by the head of the bingo operations, the worker shot and killed him.

  6. Longtime Santa Clara resident 2 weeks ago

    Richard Lesher is notorious for being completely nonsensical and unbalanced. His statements about SCV are crazy. What’s happened? The organization is behind on some paperwork. I’ve heard the audits have been completed and the paperwork filed. This will be cleared up shortly and the Silicon Valley Voice will have egg on its face. Erika Towne, please be more thorough on your reporting moving forward, and avoid the loons. 😉

  7. Alum 2 weeks ago

    It is absolute quicksand to engage with these people who are angry at not getting the jobs they wanted within the organization and who are off. Any push back or reaction to their inflammatory rhetoric is labeled victim blaming, retaliation, further abuse, any resistance to that characterization is further used to inflame, any data about the organization is weaponized to further embarrass it. Far warning to anyone doing the lord’s work, any attempt to resolve matters with them worsens things for the organization.

  8. Freelancer 2 weeks ago

    To me this all seems quite simple… The fact that the Vanguard organization had financial difficulties is well documented. The 990’s are out for the world to see. Simple fact is they made bad financial decisions that cost the organization millions of dollars and ultimately the 2023 season. Also it is well known that former bingo manager stole a large sum of money as well. Also as fact is that the organization made numerous errors that ultimately landed them in hot water with the California DOJ. All of that is proven fact and is what it is. Now.. Richard Lesher alleges that the organization is still in breach and thus operating illegally and the organization claims they have rectified said issues and are now compliant. All is well and it’s merely an admin backlog at the DOJ.

    My suggestion is simple… Prove it. Come out publicly and let the world see that proof of compliance. If the Vanguard organization IS in fact compliant, let’s see that proof. If you’ve nothing to hide, that really shouldn’t be that hard.

    My issue is that last year, Vanguard KNEW they were in trouble financially. They KNEW there was a very high likelihood that they would not come out. They’d already killed their cadet corps after massively overspending on a new food truck and by numerous member accounts who were on the road with the corps in 2022, had struggled to feed the corps. They KNEW all of this yet carried on with the 2023 winter season as if all was well. They held audition camps and TOOK KIDS MONEY absolutely KNOWING they probably weren’t coming out in 2023… which is exactly what happened.

    From where I stand, it looks to me as if history is repeating itself here.

    • Longtime Santa Clara Resident 1 week ago

      Richard Lesher, stop hiding and own your comments.

  9. Santa Clara Resident 2 weeks ago

    Looks like a bunch of angry alums shooting the messenger? Mr. Lesher has offered his assistance to this organization since the demise of the previous CEO. Thank you Silicon Valley Voice for making this public, as they are taking away funds from Santa Clara nonprofits that really need the donations. Appears they have been running a “charity” bingo to pad their own bank accounts. Shame on you Santa Clara Vanguard.

    • Longtime Santa Clara Resident 1 week ago

      False. Richard Lesher has been attacking and threatening the board for months, way before the previous CEO left. Your comments are completely unfounded and wrong. Their books have been audited and you have no right to make up a false narrative.

  10. The Richard Lesher Conspiracy Club 2 weeks ago

    Richard and Meghan Yankee (who is working hand in hand to satisfy Richard’s organizational bloodlust but for her own reasons) should adopt different writing styles.

    You both have numerous tells related to consistent and repetitive use of bad grammar. One need only look at material the world knows you’ve written (and you’ve left a near infinite trail of word vomit on the Internet) for a comparison of style.

    You’re both posting on here in your defense under the guise of a neutral third-party. Get a hobby. Other than this one.

    Looking at you, Freelancer and Another Alum.

    • Megan de Roiz Yankee 2 weeks ago

      I’m actually glad you called me out. It gives readers a chance to assess my writing and intentions for themselves:

  11. The Richard Lesher Conspiracy Club 2 weeks ago

    Enter the millennial — it’s all about me! Richard’s narcissism and your endless self promotion … like peas and carrots.

  12. SCVfan 2 weeks ago

    Well, if you can’t refute the allegations, attack & dox the messenger.

    • The Richard Lesher Conspiracy Club 2 weeks ago

      SCVfan, I accuse you of abusing small animals.

      Per Richard: “My suggestion is simple… Prove it. Come out publicly and let the world see that proof of compliance.”

      So refute the allegation publicly with proof that you don’t.

      Until then— shame!

  13. Alum 1 week ago

    The lord’s work above meaning trying to deal with them. They themselves blew up good faith attempts at that due to prioritizing plans to try to take over control. The report was made after working with the org for 2 years trying to get a certain job and not getting the job desired.

  14. Alum 1 week ago

    Richard Lesher is a certifiable loon who has been desperately trying to use his former position as a board member (which he held only briefly, and 15 years ago!!) to make himself seem more intelligent and important than he is. He thinks he knows what he is talking about and thinks he is some kind of a hero to the drum corps community, but he is well known in Vanguard circles and the greater drum corps community as an embarrassing and irrelevant fool. He is truly a toxic person and in the opinion of THIS Santa Clara Vanguard alumnus, he should be banned from setting foot in their corps hall ever again under penalty of arrest, banned from attending all DCI-sanctioned competitions where Vanguard is in attendance going forward, and also banned from all public Santa Clara Vanguard and private Vanguard alumni social media pages. He is persona non grata in Vanguard alumni circles, and anyone with any sense in their head who associates with him should run for the hills. I can’t understand his obsession with trying to destroy an organization he claims to love. I have nothing to gain OR lose by writing any of this – I have no current connections to the organization other than being an alumnus, but I have seen the damage Mr. Lesher has done over the past year and it disgusts me. He has spread lies and disinformation so far and wide, none of it can ever be put back in the box, and it’s impossible for nearly anyone to know the real truth. The fact that he has a small but very vocal cult following of equally toxic alumni is even more despicable to me – they actually think he IS telling the truth. Pathetic. Please ignore this entire article. If you look up the very To Lesher in the Urban Dictionary, this is what it says: To Lesher is to speak with authority on 100% of a problem while only understanding <5% of the problem. Leshering describes the actions of an incompetent, poor leader who is so completely misinformed and emboldened by the misinformation, they believe they're actually a smart and powerful leader. TRUTH, and kudos to whoever added that definition!

  15. Yoikes 1 week ago

    *we do have completely different individuals using the same handle here. This is a very local publication clearly without super sophisticated commenting controls

  16. Jo. 1 week ago

    from just reading the article, sounds like someone has an axe to grind not whistle to blow.

  17. Alum3 1 week ago

    Wishing these named alum who are dedicating countless hours to denigrating anything and everything (here and on other portals) – and who have more than obviously been endlessly endlessly endlessly depressive for a long time – are able find time and other venues to be happy. Go for a walk, have some fun, laugh, smile. Find positivity. Carve out protected time and focus for fun (that does not center around ego but just fun) – doing so is not contrary to or in tension with helping future members or with holding the org’s feet to the fire, and it doesn’t have to be the only thing you do. Find a tractable, helpful way to do good, be upfront, and don’t game it. You are indeed family. Families can be tense and f’d up and still have bonds.

  18. Rebecca Bunch 1 week ago

    It’s giving “crazy ex girlfriend” energy. Recommend RL and MY read this book but swap out romantic obsession for vanguard obsession: “Unrequited: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Romantic Obsession” by Lisa A. Phillips

  19. Rebecca Bunch 1 week ago

    It’s giving “crazy ex girlfriend” energy. Recommend RL and MY read this book but swap out romantic obsession for vanguard obsession: “Unrequited: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Romantic Obsession” by Lisa A. Phillips

  20. Alum4 7 days ago

    Hey! Sorry, but I’m an Alum, too! So, pardon me, but I need to join in too!

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