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Saturday, March 22, 2008
Posted 6:19 PM by

DeNaples fights back; key lawmaker in trouble in Slotsylvania

Louis DeNaplesNow it's indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples' turn to fight back.

On Thursday, the Dunmore billionaire gave a copy of his own FBI file to the state Gaming Control Board. He initially refused to do that during the background check for his license, even though he requested it through the Federal Freedom of Information Act.

Kevin Feeley, DeNaples' spokesman, blamed the discrepancy on the FBI's failure to release the entire file to DeNaples in a timely manner. Since then, the FBI has supplied the entire file to DeNaples' attorneys, Feeley said. In response to a recent request from the gaming board, the lawyers gave it to the agency.

DeNaples' lawyer, Richard A. Sprague of Philadelphia, told the Inquirer the perjury case against his client rests on lies told by reputed Northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss Billy D'Elia.

Sprague said D'Elia lied when he told the grand jury that the D'Elia-DeNaples family relationship ran so deep that DeNaples gave his father's rosary beads to D'Elia after the elder DeNaples passed away. The rosary beads were black, not green, and are buried with the elder DeNaples, Sprague told the newspaper's editorial board.

Sprague also attacked D'Elia's testimony cited in the grand jury's Jan. 30 presentment that D'Elia's predecessor, the late Russell Bufalino, gave DeNaples the ring he was wearing after DeNaples complimented it while the pair were at the C&C Club in the early 1970s.

It never happened, said Sprague, who had asked to meet with the Inquirer's editorial board to complain about the way the newspaper's editorials had characterized DeNaples, who maintains his innocence. He has been barred from his own casino - and its profits - pending the outcome of the criminal case.

State police filed the four perjury charges against DeNaples, 67, accusing him of lying to Gaming Control Board agents about the extent of his relationships with D'Elia, Bufalino and two men at the center of a federal probe into corruption involving Philadelphia City Hall.

And before you go thinking DeNaples' was framed, remember he pleaded no contest to a federal felony in a 1978 fraud case, gave more than $1.1 million to the state's top elected officials in the years before he received his license, and FBI wiretaps are being used as evidence against him.

None of that also explains whether DeNaples attended the 1999 wedding of D'Elia's daughter, as D'Elia has also claimed. Stands to reason that if there was no friendly connection between the two of them, DeNaples might just have sent a gift and well wishes.

Better hope the feds, state police and/or Dauphin County prosecutors are going through the wedding album right now looking for DeNaples in group shots.

Nor does it explain why Tad Decker, the former chairman of the gaming board, refused to call D'Elia as a witness before the board unanimously voted to grant him a license on Dec. 20, 2006.

Decker told the Allentown Morning Call that someone - he refused to say who - told him that D'Elia would merely have evoked his fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination if called. It wasn't D'Elia's lawyer, who said his client is eager to testify on this matter.

Decker and other Gaming Control Board members knew or should have known that the state police were investigating DeNaples for perjury before they issued him a license, according to testimony state police commander Jeffrey Miller gave the Legislature during budget hearings last month.

Since then, you can understand why Republicans in the Legislature are salivating for an official probe into DeNaples' licensing by a bipartisan committee with subpoena power. They also want reform for the state's four-year-old slots law.

One of the biggest impediments to slots reform, though, has been state Rep. Harold James (D-Philadelphia), majority chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee. He has refused to move any slots-related legislation out of his committee for more than a year.

But the wheels in Slotsylvania go round and round - and James may now be hardpressed to win re-election this year.

State Rep. Harold James.According to the Inquirer: The state Supreme Court issued a three-sentence order Thursday overturning a ruling by Commonwealth Court Judge Doris A. Smith-Ribner and ordered her to consider a challenge against James's nominating petitions, seeking to have him thrown off the April 22 primary ballot.

The original deadline for submitting signatures was Feb. 12, and the deadline for challenging them was seven days later.

But a raging snowstorm in central Pennsylvania kept some candidates from reaching the state election bureau in time, and Gov. Rendell extended the filing deadline from 5 p.m. on Feb. 12 to noon on Feb. 14. Challenges were due seven days later.

James's opponent, Kenyatta Johnson, challenged James's petitions on grounds that he improperly listed himself as the person circulating his petitions, when in fact they were circulated by other people.

Johnson filed the challenge in mid-afternoon on Feb. 21. James's attorney, John Sabatina, contended that the challenge should have been filed before noon. Ribner-Smith agreed and dismissed the challenge, without hearing any of Johnson's evidence on the alleged petition problems.

The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling yesterday that the challenge had been "timely filed" and remanding the James case for a hearing next Wednesday.

There is no known direct connection between DeNaples and state Rep. James.

However, one of James' biggest political contributors over the years was former state Rep. Mike Veon, who gave him a total of $5,000. Although Veon is now a lobbyist in Harrisburg for gambling and other interests, as a lawmaker he received at least $60,000 in contributions from DeNaples.

Veon also was head of the House Democratic Campaign Committee and used that position to push for gambling expansion along with now-House Majority Leader H. William DeWeese, who reportedly received $5,000 in contributions from DeNaples.

James' committee is sitting on a bill DeWeese wrote, H.B. 2121, which would turn all of the state's 14 slots parlors - seven of which are already operating - into full fledged casinos.


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

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