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

Saturday, March 15, 2008
Posted 11:10 PM by

Time to put the blinders on in Slotsylvania

Former Gaming Control Board Chairman Tad Decker (left) and State Police Commissioner Jeff Miller (right)We may never know who lied - the state police commander or the former chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board - if key lawmakers like Jane Earll get their way.

After first denying there was a problem with the way the state licenses its slots parlor owners, Earll (R-Erie) now says she's willing to hold hearings in light of the four perjury charges filed against slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.

However, she does not want them to be about the conflicting testimony of state officials on how DeNaples got his license because "I'm not sure where that (investigation) gets us constructively."

As chairwoman of the Senate's Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, Earll is crafting the Senate GOP's plans to address the matter. "I have no desire to turn any of this into a side circus," she said.

Oops, too late.

The time for that was before the Gaming Control Board members unanimously handed DeNaples a license after a grand jury says he allegedly lied to the board about his ties to two reputed mobsters and two political fixers.

Adding to this freaky show is the fact that before DeNaples received his license he gave as much as $1.1 million an campaign contributions to the state's top officials. Among them, Gov. Ed Rendell and state Attorney Tom Corbett, who have refused to return DeNaples' money since his indictment.

The Dunmore billionaire and former federal felon has denied any wrongdoing, but has been barred from the $412 million Mt. Airy Casino Resort he owns until the charges are resolved.

Earll, whose district is home to Presque Isle Downs & Casino, voted to legalize slot machines in 2004. As chairwoman, she has refused to bring any reform legislation up for a vote in her committee for more than a year - defying many within her party who have called for change.

She also stopped an effort last October - three months before DeNaples' indictment - to put state police in charge of slot licensee background investigations, saying, "I don't see any glaring problems that have been brought to light by today's testimony that we need to rush to fix."

This being Slotsylvania, she's clearly trying to sweep things under the rug, telling the Associated Press that the conflicting accounts about what was shared between the gaming board and state police while vetting DeNaples is akin to "he said, she said."

It's much more than that.

Col. Jeffrey Miller, the Pennsylvania State Police commissioner, testified March 4 before the Senate and House Appropriations Committees that at least some of the state's seven Control Board members knew the state police were investigating DeNaples for lying to them, but they publicly voted to award him a slots parlor license anyway on Dec. 20, 2006.

In fact, Miller said, the board's own privately-hired background investigators were the ones who tipped the staties and the Feds off in the first place. (The Feds' case was later thrown for a loop when prosecuting U.S. Attorney Tom Marino left office and took a job with DeNaples.)

The Control Board's former chairman, attorney Thomas A. "Tad" Decker, has denied that the control board knew DeNaples was lying. "We didn't send a perjury referral," Decker told the Scranton Times-Tribune on March 7. "This is just flat out not true."

Yet, Sen. Robert J. Mellow, the Democratic leader from Lackawanna County and a longtime friend of DeNaples, called any Senate perjury investigation a "slippery slope."

"All we'll be doing is taking up our time policing (testimony) as opposed to doing public policy," Mellow, who voted for the slots law, told the AP.

However, Republican House leader Sam Smith, of Jefferson County, "It's hard to look at that stuff and not think, 'Somebody isn't being 100 percent truthful here.'"

Some lawmakers say they believe that lying to a legislative committee is a crime. Good luck proving that, since none of the PGCB members were sworn in during their House appropriations hearing last month.

It was an oversight and a mistake, David Atkinson, a committee spokesman, said then.

Sixty-eight House Republicans signed a letter to House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) this week asking the Appropriations Committee chairman to recall the Control Board members. "The members and the public deserve to be told honest and truthful answers from this regulatory agency." says the letter, which was released Friday

Like Earll, House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Harold James (D-Philadelphia) has been slow to call for hearings into the DeNaples' matter, even though Evans testified he asked him to look into it last month. James told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review this week he is gathering information from both agencies and will call a hearing to look into it.

And just like Earll, James hasn't let any slots law reform bills comes up in his committee for more than a year.

Meanwhile, slots parlor owners - including DeNaples, may be barred by law from contributing to political campaigns, but are still allowed to lobby lawmakers largely in secret.

Things are getting so ugly in Slotsylvania, that politicians here can no longer point at Louisiana as more corrupt than they are, wrotes Allentown Morning Call columnist Paul Carpenter.

"The entire slots scam was ballyhooed from the start as a razzle-dazzle way to ease local school taxes," Carpenter wrote. "That was the worst fraud of all."


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

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