"What's black and white and read all over?"

Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Posted 10:27 PM by

Trouble in crooked Slotsylvania

The real question to be asked now is whether any of the state's top officials, prosecutors, judges and political parties will give back the more than $1 million contributed by slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples, who was indicted today for lying about his mob ties?

Will Pennsylvania's top officials give back the more than $1 million Louis DeNaples contributed to their campaigns now that he's been indicted?Louis DeNaples, the owner of one of only two free standing slots parlors in Pennsylvania, was indicted today by a Dauphin County grand jury for allegedly lying to the state Gaming Control Board about his mob ties during a prelicensing background check.

The board then suspended DeNaples' license with an emergency order that allows the casino to stay open but bars him from entering the property, exerting control over the casino or profiting from it.

It makes you wonder how thorough the board's investigation really was, considering DeNaples alleged ties to indicted Northeast Pennsylvania mob boss Billy D'Elia and the late Russell Bufalino date back decades and were included in reports issued by the now-defunct Pennsylvania Crime Commission.

But the board eventually made its licensing decisions without knowing what state police knew about DeNaples and other applicants because the board hired private investigators to do its background checks, pissing off the staties. A lawsuit from the PSP against the board is still pending.

The real question to be asked now is whether any of the state's top officials, prosecutors and judges - not to mention political parties - will give back any of the more than $1 million DeNaples gave them as campaign contributions between 2000 and 2004 before he applied for the casino license?

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Gov. Ed Rendell (at least $115,000), Attorney General Tom Corbett (at least $35,000), multiple judges (at least $15,500), the Pennsylvania Democratic Party (at least $55,000) and the House Republican Campaign Committe (at least $41,200) to return the money.

Two years ago, then-state Sen. David Brightbill did return $20,000 DeNaples gave him in 2004 and 2005, but only because the contributions were illegal.

The cash was donated months after the state slots law went into effect and prohibited potential casino applicants from making campaign contributions. Not that the Gaming Control Board cares, since it ruled anyone connected with slot parlors can still hand money to lobbyists, who can then turn around and give it to elected officials on their client's behalf.

Kevin Feeley, a spokesman for DeNaples, called the public release of the indictment "outrageous" because his boss wasn't notified first. He claimed it was done solely to garner headlines and added that "One thing is clear now: Mr. DeNaples is glad that we are finally moving from the rumor mill to the courtroom. Anybody who knows Louis DeNaples knows that he tells the truth. And he's eager to have the chance to show he did exactly that before the gaming board."

But District Attorney Ed Marsico said, "I'm confident that the questions were clear, and that there could be no misunderstanding as to whether or not Mr. DeNaples understood those and he answered falsely."

He said he expects DeNaples to turn himself in within a few days.

DeNaples himself told The Times-Tribune of Scranton in 2006, "Look, I'm 65 years old. I don't need the money. Do you think for one minute that I would stick my neck out and put my personal name on an application, send it to the gaming commission, knowing the kind of questions they'll ask, knowing the background checks. ... If I thought I had a problem, do you think that I would do that? Why would I be that dumb?"

The same grand jury that indicted DeNaples today previously charged the Rev. Joseph F. Sica, a Roman Catholic priest and friend of DeNaples, with perjury. Prosecutors said Sica lied to the grand jury about his relationship with Bufalino, an organized crime boss who served lengthy prison terms in the 1970s and '80s and died in the 1990s.

Corbett, the state's top prosecutor, had authority to investigate DeNaples, but chose to permit Marsico to pursue the matter saying that the county prosecutor had already begun delving into other gambling-related matters. He denied that his own conflict of interest in having taken money from DeNaples was the reason.

By the way, former state Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Jubelirer, who acccepted $20,000 from DeNaples, praised Corbett for starting an anti-corruption task force in 2006, saying, "Gambling has never proved to be a corruption-free enterprise, no matter which state tries it, and no matter how strong the regulatory oversight is designed to be. So there is no question there is trouble ahead for Pennsylvania. The only questions seem to be when, where, and how much trouble hits."

Guess Bob was right about that. He wasn't about the 2005 pay raise legislators gave themselves and got chucked out of office by voters.

The money aside, DeNaples' indictment should throw open the whole way the slots parlor law was rammed down our throats in the first place - by inserting a 146-page bill into a two-paragraph one late at night on the eve of a July 4th weekend.

And if none of that convinces you the game is rigged in Slotsylvania, this should. The slots law was sold to Pennsylvanians - after the fact - by legislative leaders and Rendell as a way to lower property taxes for everyone.

But four years later, the state House overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday that says all of the state's share of slots revenue - an estimated $1 billion annually - should be used to lower property taxes for lower income seniors only.

The rest of us may eventuallly have to pay higher income or sales taxes if younger homeowners are to get any break at all.


For more about Louis DeNaples and to read my complete take on this long-predicted Slotsylvania snafu, click here.

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