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Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Posted 9:26 PM by

Slotsylvania gambling regulators failed their duty

Gambling regulators knew the state police were probing Louis DeNaples for lying to them, but gave the politically-connected felon a slots parlor license anyway.At least some of the state's seven Gaming Control Board members knew the state police were investigating Louis DeNaples for lying to them, but they publicly voted unanimously to award the politically-connected Dunmore billionaire a slots parlor license anyway on Dec. 20, 2006.

In back-to-back hearings Tuesday, Col. Jeffrey Miller, the Pennsylvania State Police commissioner, told the Senate and House Appropriations Committees that one of his troopers told the gaming board's top agents that the investigation was ongoing when they asked about it in the weeks before the panel awarded a casino license to DeNaples, according to the Associated Press.

DeNaples was indicted Jan. 30 on four perjury charges for lying to the board about his alleged ties to two reputed mob bosses and two corrupt Philadelphia political fixers.

"The board should have known because the BIE (the gaming board's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement) did know, because they were the ones who referred it to us in the first place," Miller told senators. He also said the bureau made three other referrals to outside agencies, including state police, on matters relating to DeNaples.

One of those outside agencies contacted was the Central Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney's office, which began its own investigation of DeNaples.

However, that probe had to be temporarily transferred in August 2007 to the federal prosecutors' Binghamton, N.Y., office after it was publicly disclosed that U.S. Attorney Thomas Marino was listed as one of two law enforcement references by DeNaples on his application for a slots parlor license.

Marino left office in October. He now works for DeNaples as in-house counsel for the billionaire's many other businesses, which include a landfill, a waste hauling business, an auto parts dealership and a motorcycle dealership as well as vast land holdings.

Because of the indictment against him, DeNaples has been suspended from a bank he chairs and the slots parlor he owns in Mount Airy. He has denied any wrongdoing and his defense attorneys have characterized the prosecution as headline-grabbing persecution by an overzealous Dauphin County District Attorney's office. The local prosecutor is handling the case with state Attorney General Tom Corbett's approval.

A gaming board spokesman refused comment on today's revelations.

In addition to tipping the state police and the feds to the possible perjury, the Gaming Control Board's investigators also alerted them to another matter involving DeNaples. They learned during their background check that DeNaples bought 30 tractor-trailers flooded by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans for $180,000, and then allegedly sold at least one for use on the open road for $75,000 rather than scrapping it.

That state police probe for alleged "title washing" is reportedly still ongoing.

However, former gaming board chairman Tad Decker has said the board opted to dismiss the truck allegation during closed door negotiations. The board referred the matter in fall 2006 to the Department of State, which later reported it "didn't have any proof there was anything illegal."

Decker has previously blamed the state police for this mess, saying if the troopers had shared what they knew before the board voted, it wouldn't have given DeNaples a license. However, it was disclosed last month that the board never subpoenaed reputed mob boss Billy D'Elia to testify, even though his 30-year friendship with DeNaples is what sparked the perjury charges.

Even if none of the above set off a red flag for the gaming board's members, this should have at least given them pause.

DeNaples is a federal felon. He pleaded no contest in 1978 to defrauding the government of more than $500,000 for cleanup work associated with Hurricane Agnes. The 2004 law legalizing slot machine gambling did not bar him from owning a slots parlor, though, because it specifically forgave any offenses older than 15 years.

The question is why?

The state Supreme Court found in 2000 (Commonwealth ex rel. Baldwin v. Richard) that former felons are barred from holding any public office, period, no matter the basis for their conviction. So why did the state specifically let felons run its casinos?

That ruling was referred to in a 2001 Commonwealth Court ruling and a 2002 state Supreme Court affirmation which barred Republican Robert C. Bolus Sr. from running for Mayor of Scranton 10 years after his felony conviction for receiving stolen property. Bolus later tried to overturn the ruling by unsuccessfully suing the Supreme Court justices in federal court.

Bolus also happens to be an enemy of DeNaples and an auto parts competitor. He blamed DeNaples in written testimony before the Gaming Control Board in 2006 for what he claimed was a wrongful conviction.

"DeNaples will lie, cheat and even allow someone to be imprisoned to get his own way," Bolus testified. "Louis feels he can just buy anyone he wants."

Some of the same justices Bolus sued may soon decide whether to let DeNaples' prosecution continue after his lawyer filed a petition to have the high court intervene and dismiss the case last month.

Lawmakers have called the situation an embarrassment, although no consensus has emerged over how to change casino licensing to avoid the same thing from happening again, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, DeNaples is forbidden from walking into his own casino or profiting from it, but is still legally free to lobby lawmakers. His company, Mount Airy #1 L.L.C, spent $67,375 last year lobbying for "casino gambling" through the Philadelphia firm of S.R. Wojdak & Associates LP, state records show.

Prior to the midnight passage of the 2004 law legalizing slot machine gambling, which barred direct political donations by slots parlor applicants, DeNaples contributed at least $679,375 and possibly more than $1 million to the state's top officials.

State records are shoddy. But Gov. Ed Rendell received at least $115,000 from DeNaples in campaign contributions between 2000 and 2004, and Corbett, the state's top prosecutor, accepted at least $35,000. Spokesmen for both told the Harrisburg Patriot-News this week they won't give the money back unless DeNaples is convicted. Other recipients of DeNaples' contributions included top state lawmakers, party groups and judges.

The seven Gaming Control Board members were appointed by Rendell and the top officials from each party in both the state House and Senate. There was no public vetting of their qualifications and no confirmation process, even though board members are paid $145,000 a year.


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

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