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

Monday, March 24, 2008
Posted 5:38 PM by

Pressure building in Slotsylvania House for DeNaples probe

Tad Decker (left), State Police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller
"It seems like we're not getting the truth here," state Rep. Curt Schroder (R-East Brandywine) told the Daily Local News of Chester County last week.

That's why Shroder and other Republican lawmakers are throwing in behind House Resolution 652. It reportedly calls for creating a select committee with subpoena powers to to examine the process that awarded a state license to indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.

I'd love to link directly to the resolution and tell you all about it.

But in typical Slotsylvania fashion, HR 652 still isn't posted online for the public to read. It isn't among a list of pending resolutions even though 12 others have been added since it was introduced last week.

That isn't what's supposed to happen when something controversial gets introduced in the Legislature. Just look at this example, which also happens to reference a fictional House Bill 652.

If passed by the House, HR 652 would reportedly create a select committee composed of 10 members, including the majority and minority chairs of the Gaming Oversight Committee, two appointments each from the majority and minority leaders, and four appointments by the speaker - two Republicans and two Democrats.

The committee would hold hearings, take testimony and issue subpoenas to compel testimony or produce documents, records or other information deemed appropriate.

Any person appearing before the committee would be put under oath or affirmation. Any person refusing to testify or produce requested records would be subject to penalties. The committee would have 90 days to complete its work.

That work is includes figuring who was telling the truth: State Police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller, who testified on March 4 that the state Gaming Control Board knew or should have known DeNaples was under investigation for perjury before he was granted a license, or former Control Board Chairman Thomas "Tad" Decker who has publicly stated they didn't.

The board unanimously approved a license for DeNaples on Dec. 20, 2006, ignoring DeNaples' near-three-decades old felony, a complaint that he sold a Hurricane Katrina-wrecked tractor trailer for hauling instead of scrap as well as his rumored ties to mob figures.

DeNaples was indicted Jan. 30 on four charges of lying to the gaming board about his relationship with two reputed Northeastern Pennsylvania mob bosses and two corrupt political fixers in Philadelphia.

He has denied any wrong-doing, but has been barred from his own $412 million Mount Airy Casino and its profits.

"I think we have to get to the bottom of this," said Shroder, a member of the House Gaming Oversight Committee. We can't just say, 'Oh, we'll do better next time.' We really have to restore the public's confidence in this whole operation."

Shroder could start by asking state Rep. Harold James (D-Philadelphia), the majority chairman of the oversight committee, why he hasn't called for hearings himself. Or ask James why the committee hasn't moved a single slots gambling reform bill in more than a year.

Ditto for state Sen. Jane Earll, an Erie Republican who heads the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee and has similarly stymied reform efforts there.

Earll also stopped an effort last October 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."

As The Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre said in its editorial on Sunday, "Finding the truth is a matter of accountability to the public."


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

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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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Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Posted 10:05 PM by

Slotsylvania GOP lawmakers: Let's have an inquiry, please

Stymied through normal channels, Republicans lawmakers are calling for a bipartisan committee to investigate the Louis DeNaples mess.Some Republican state representatives want a bipartisan committee with subpoena power to probe what the state Gaming Control Board knew and when in the licensing of slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.

DeNaples, a Dunmore billionaire, was indicted Jan. 30 on four counts of perjury for allegedly lying to the board about his ties to two reputed mobsters and two political fixers. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Ditto with Gaming Control Board members, who claim they were never told state police were investigating DeNaples before they unanimously issued him a license on Dec. 20, 2006.

Their statements, however, appear to contradict testimony from Col. Jeffrey Miller, commander of the state police, who said the board should have known about the criminal investigation because its own privately-hired investigators were the ones who tipped the troopers to the possible perjury.

"We have two state agencies saying two diametrically opposed things," state Rep. Curt Schroder (R-Chester) told the Scranton Times-Tribune. He plans to introduce a bill to create the a 10-member special bipartisan committee as soon as lawmakers return to session from their Easter break on March 31.

Schroder and other Republicans lawmakers, including Doug Reichley of Lehigh, Mike Vereb of Montgomery and House Minority Leader Sam Smith of Punxsutawney, hope public pressure will force Democratic leaders to establish the committee or at least help them win enough rank-and-file votes from the other side to pass the resolution.

"What we are trying to do is restore the confidence of the public and the integrity of this (licensing) process," said Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, cousin to Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico Jr., who filed the perjury charges in January against DeNaples. "The whole process since the beginning of 2004 is in question."

Vereb agreed, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Mount Airy has a cloud over it. This is a cancer, and we have to attack this cancer ever way possible."

The Republicans are critical of the House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Harold James (D-Philadelphia) for only taking up bingo bills during the past 14 months and House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia), for not allowing more questioning of Gaming Board members during recent budget hearings.

However, they denied they are pursuing a political witch hunt designed to embarrass Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, a big backer of slots who received at least $115,000 in campaign contributions from DeNaples, or the gaming board, three of whose seven members Rendell selected.

Yet, Reichley said the onus is now on the majority because "The House Democratic leadership has shielded the Gaming Board from further inquiries."


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

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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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Monday, February 25, 2008
Posted 10:04 PM by

Never assume anything in Slotsylvania

Billy D'EliaHe may be bound by Omerta not to rat on other made guys, but reputed Northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss Billy D'Elia would have gladly sung like a canary about his long-time friendship with now-indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.

But nobody - certainly not the Slotsylvania Gaming Control Board - ever subpoenaed him, D'Elia's attorney, James Swetz of Stroudsburg, has told The Morning Call of Allentown.

"He would have testified and he would have answered any questions truthfully that were posed to him about whether or not he knew Mr. DeNaples, and Bill has known him for 30 years," Swetz said.

Tad Decker, the out-of-control board's former chairman, said the regulators could have used their weak subpoena power to compel D'Elia's testimony, without the ability to grant immunity, "But we were told he would come and take the Fifth and he wouldn't testify."

He declined to tell the newspaper who told the board that.

Swetz said neither he nor his client did. "With all due respect to Mr. Decker, he may have assumed that Mr. D'Elia wouldn't testify, but he certainly never asked me that. And if he had, the answer may have surprised him."

It's partly because of his alleged relationship with D'Elia that DeNaples, a Dunmore billionaire, has been indicted for perjury for lying to the gaming board. DeNaples told both the board and a Dauphin County grand jury that he only knew D'Elia as "a guy from the neighborhood" who shopped at his auto parts store.

But Swetz said, "Mr. D'Elia's association with Louis DeNaples is not simply from across the auto parts counter, as Mr. DeNaples has stated. They've known each other for a long time."

D'Elia, who is in federal custody awaiting trial on charges of money laundering and conspiring to kill a witness, told the grand jury he had close ties to DeNaples as a friend and business associate. He said he frequently met with DeNaples at his private office at DeNaples Auto Parts in Dunmore and that DeNaples was a guest at the 1999 wedding of D'Elia's daughter.

Had D'Elia told gaming board investigators that, the board would not have issued DeNaples a slots license, Decker said. "Absolutely not."

Private investigators performing a background check on DeNaples for the board did ask to interview D'Elia, but Swetz said he directed them to federal prosecutors in Harrisburg and then never heard from the Gaming Control Board again.

So much for due diligence and the board's current theory that the state police's refusal to share criminal information is to blame for this mess.

In other Slotsylvania news:

  • Mafia book author Charles Brandt, who has read the grand jury presentments against DeNaples, told The Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre that Dauphin County prosecutors may have a hard time proving their perjury case. "I found the questions inartfully crafted, and they left lots of wiggle room," Brandt said.

  • DeNaples' spokesman, Philly PR guy Kevin Feeley, was profiled in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. Among the other clients he's trying to spin is the city tax board which lost the file on Sen. Vince Fumo's $6 million mansion.

  • Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, the sole candidate to file for the Democratic party's nomination for state Attorney General, has begun to attack Republican incumbent Tom Corbett for accepting at least $35,000 in campaign contributions from DeNaples.

  • The Morning Call has caught on to my idea that state Rep. Harold James (D-Philadelphia) is purposely dragging his feet and refusing to bring any slots reform bills up for a vote in the House Gaming Oversight Committee he chairs.

  • Two of the bills the Oversight Committee has pigeonholed, H.B. 1715 and H.B. 1975, would require $1.5 million to $3.5 million from the state's rake of slots gambling be used to treat gambling addicts. Gaming Board Chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo Colins testified last week that already 200 people across the state have excluded themselves from the state's seven open slots parlors. One of them is likely a woman who gambled away $573,000 at a Harrah's Chester Casino. She is now cited as a statistic in Casino-Free Philadelphia's Operation Hidden Costs, an anti-casino study it plans to unveil Wednesday.


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

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Friday, February 22, 2008
Posted 11:55 PM by

Follow-up Friday: Everything's connected in Slotsylvania


Look who's floundering now.First, they blew $7.5 million on executive bonuses, $2.2 million on promotional swag, $800,000 on lavish trips for themselves, and $108,000 renting out HersheyPark for a day, claiming they deserved the perks for doing such a good job.

Then, they fought three media outlets who sought to prove their out-of-control spending, paying lawyers $409,413 to battle the legitimate requests for public records all the way up to the state Supreme Court.

Now, the lawmaker-dominated board which runs the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority (PHEAA) - the largest provider of college loans and grants to students in the state - is crying poverty and plans to lobby federal officials for help with a "looming crisis in funding for student loans."

On the plus side, at least its chairman, state Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware County), said last week his agency won't appeal a Commonwealth Court decision saying it must now reimburse the media's $48,000 in legal fees. "We're going to pay the bill and move on," Adolph said.

If it can afford to.

PHEAA's board held an "emergency" summit Thursday which blamed the nation's subprime mortgage mess, and its resulting credit crunch, for the "failed auctions" of student debt it has experienced recently in the bond market for the first time in its history.

The authority's bond market woes are "substantially increasing its cost of borrowing and putting its ability to fund additional student loans at risk," Adolph said in a press release Thursday.

The agency doled out 162,502 awards in 2006-07, with students receiving an average of $3,135. The agency has declined to estimate next year's awards because of the credit problems.

"As many Americans face foreclosure on their homes, millions of college students may now face foreclosure on their plans for a higher education," Adolph said. "We must act quickly and we must act now - before our students are caught in a painful student aid funding crunch that could put their college plans financially out of reach."

He said the summit came up with a plan to ask the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, the U.S. Secretary of Education, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and the President of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh for help.

I kid you not.

Like they even have time to notice right now with the rest of the U.S. economy spiraling down the toilet.

The plea for help came from the same arrogant agency that claimed it could do no wrong just last year, and whose own board member, state Sen. Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia), had the audacity last month to accuse Auditor General Jack Wagner of playing politics with the state's first-ever audit of PHEAA.

Much like the authority he helps run, Fumo is now flat on his back or ample gut after undergoing lumbar fusion surgery on Tuesday. He did not attend the summit.


Sure, he's under federal indictment for allegedly extorting $17 million from PECO for a non-profit agency in his district and then trying to cover it up.

And it's more than a little mysterious that the city lost its property tax file on his $6 million Fairmount Place mansion sometime over the last two decades, letting him pay just $6,611 a year in property taxes instead of $165,000 annually.

But if the Vince of Darkness does stand for re-election on April 22, he may not have much to fear from self-termed "reform" candidate Lawrence M. Farnese Jr..

Farnese, a Philly attorney, submitted voter petitions with 1,800 signatures last week to run for office, however, hundreds of them were in the same handwriting - obviously forgeries, according to today's Philadelphia Daily News.

This from the same guy who promised a small group of supporters this week, "When I get to Harrisburg, transparent and accountable government is going to be one of the main priorities that I work on, right from Day One."

Not a great start. But hey, at least none of the forgeries came from dead people. That's an improvement right there.

Still, another Democratic rival John J. Dougherty, business manager of the Local 98 electricians union, sponsored a lawsuit this week challenging Farnese's petitions in Commonwealth Court. No word yet on whether Fumo and another Democratic candidate, community activist Anne Dicker will join the suit.

A total of 228 legislative seats - all 203 House seats and half of the 50 seats in the Senate - are up for grabs this year. And Farnese, a newcomer, isn't the only one in hot water over petitions.

There also were petition challenges to at least five incumbent state lawmakers: Rep. Frank Andrews Shimkus (D-Lackawanna County), Rep. Mauree A. Gingrich (R-Lebanon), Rep. Harold James (D-Philadelphia), Rep. Thomas W. Blackwell IV (D-Philadelphia) and Rep. Tony Payton Jr. (D-Philadelphia), according to the Associated Press.

James was accused of improperly signing petitions. He claimed he circulated them personally, but voters have said someone else had been circulating the petitions.

As majority chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, James has also been holding up legislation that could reform the state's seven slots parlors before the next seven open their doors.


As I wrote on Wednesday, one of James' biggest contributors over the years was former state Rep. Mike Veon, an outspoken advocate of gambling expansion in the state who wanted riverboast gambling legalized when he was in office.

In addition to being architects of the slots bill, Veon and House Floor Leader H. William DeWeese were the only two representatives to vote against repealing the 2005 legislative pay raise.

Veon, a former Democratic whip, got cracked when he lost his re-election bid in the fall of 2006, despite spending $2 million, and is now one of the 843 registered lobbyists roaming the halls in Harrisburg.

To help retire the rest of Veon's campaign debt, the House Democratic Campaign Committee gave him a total of $40,683 in November and December, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"I don't think it's appropriate for the campaign committee to be doing that," state Rep. Dan Frankel, (D-Pittsburgh), who is co-chairman of its fund-raising committee, told the newspaper. "The function of the campaign committee is to help elect Democrats; that's our mission, and I'm not sure this action helps advance that."

But state Rep. Todd Eachus (D-Luzerne County) said, "This is a decision I made and I stand by it. I would do the same thing for Dan Frankel if he lost tomorrow."

Lame-duck Gov. Ed Rendell has also given Veon $5,000 from his remaining $2.25 million in campaign funds.

Here's where things get fun.

Fast Eddie has been facing mounting criticism - including at least one call for his impeachment - for failing to get property tax reform passed in the Legislature. His inability to do so, just like the governors before him, has led me to call for mandated property tax reassessments statewide in order to prevent more tax cases like Fumo's and to correct long-ignored inequities.

Rendell's office this week quietly floated the idea of providing statewide property tax cuts averaging $185 per homeowner this summer out of the state's 55 percent rake from slots gambling, even though no such plan has been approved by the Legislature.

The move drew immediate derision from some lawmakers, including state Rep. Nick Kotik (D-Coraopolis), who said, "I don't think 185 bucks will make anyone happy. But it's the old story that something is better than nothing."

Expect calls to further expand gambling at the slots parlors to table games - thereby providing more tax relief - to begin this spring. And there's already a bill, H.B. 2121 penned by DeWeese, sitting in James' oversight committee to do just that.

"We started with slot machines and now we should complete the job because there is no practical difference between putting $10 in a slot machine and putting $10 on a blackjack or poker table," DeWeese said way back in 2005.

Once that happens, Slotsylvania may become known as Pai-Gow-Pennsy.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Posted 10:24 PM by

Don't believe the hype, or much else in Slotsylvania

Gaming Control Board chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo ColinsWell, that "noisy debate" at Tuesday's state budget hearing turned out to be a bit of a bust, with the most friction occurring between two lawmakers and not with the head of the state Gaming Control Board.

State Rep. Douglas Reichley (R-Lehigh county) tried to grill board chairwoman Mary DiGiacomo Colins at length about why she and other board members approved a license for now-indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.

But Reichley was shut down after about 15 minutes by House Budget Committee Majority Chairman Dwight Evans (D-Philly) for going off topic during the House's first public budget hearing of the year.

Evans said he has asked the House Gaming Oversight to hold hearings on Mt. Airy's licensing and suggested that would be a better forum for Reichley's questions. More on that in a bit.

The real news today is that DeNaples, a Dunmore billionaire, asked a Dauphin County court judge to dismiss the perjury charges against him, arguing in a court filing that:

  • Prosecutors never proved that statements Louis A. DeNaples made to state gambling investigators were false. (I thought that was the whole purpose of a trial? It apparently was enough to convince a grand jury.)

  • Dauphin County prosecutors gave inadequate instructions for the grand jury to understand the legal requirements for a perjury charge.

  • DeNaples was never questioned about some of the occurrences that prosecutors say help prove that he lied about the extent of his relationships with two reputed mobsters and two Philly political fixers.

  • Some lines of questioning by state Gaming Control Board investigators were so vague that DeNaples' answers could not prove that he lied.

"The charges are simply not supported by the facts, and we are confident that Mr. DeNaples will be proven innocent," DeNaples' defense attorney, Richard A. Sprague, said in a statement. Sprague has also asked the state Supreme Court to intervene in the case.

However, Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico countered that he believes DeNaples knowingly lied in response to clear questions, and the grand jury understood his testimony amounted to perjury. "The merits of this case will speak for themselves," Marsico told the Associated Press.

The charges allege that DeNaples lied about his mob ties while being interviewed for his slots parlor license and later in testimony before the grand jury. He has denied any wrong-doing but has been legally barred from both his casino and a bank he built until the charges are resolved.

Part of the case rests on FBI wiretaps that caught DeNaples talking to some of the men. The G-men alerted the state police to what they found, but neither the staties nor the Feds would reveal what they knew to the Gaming Control Board before DeNaples got his license.

No one actually used DeNaples' name at Tuesday's budget hearing, as if saying his name in front of TV cameras might make them burst into flames. Instead, they referred to him only by proxy by naming his $412 million Mount Airy Casino Resort.

During the hearing, Reichley pointed to letters dating as far back as Feb. 16, 2006, in which law enforcement authorities repeatedly warning the gambling regulators they could not share what they knew about DeNaples before he was granted his slots parlor license in December 2006. DeNaples opened Mount Airy in October 2007.

The letters also stated that the board's privately hired investigators had no right to use the FBI's National Crime Information Center computer system in its background checks for slots parlor applicants, Reichley said.

Colins, the board's chairwoman and a former Philly judge, admitted there is "a real tension" between law enforcement and gambling regulators, but insisted the state Criminal History Record Information Act "doesn't prevent acknowledging that an investigation is going on."

She suggested one possible future remedy may be to have a judge review all information the state police have on an applicant in secret, and then he or she could advise the gaming board whether there is reason to withhold an applicant's slots parlor license.

As I said, Evans cut off questions, saying he has asked state Rep. Harold James, majority chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, to hold hearings into Mount Airy's licensing.

Reichley won't hold his breath waiting. "I do not believe Chairman Evans' attempt to shield Chairperson Colins from questions is helping to restore faith in the Gaming Control Board's integrity, and House Democratic leadership must be held accountable for this," he said in a press release after the budget hearing.

James (D-Philadelphia) has refused to move any reform-minded slots legislation out of his committee in more than a year. James was also one of only 20 representatives to vote against Senate Bill 862, which in part barred lawmakers from owning a piece of any slots parlor. The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate and passed the House, 180-20, on March 14, 2006. It was signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell on Nov. 1, 2006.

He did hold a hearing at Mount Airy on Dec. 6, 2007, but only to examine the operation and the economic and social impact of Mount Airy Casino Resort on the surrounding communities. DeNaples was indicted less than two months later.

James has received 337 political contributions since Jan. 1, 2000, but none are directly from gambling interests, state records show.

He did, however, receive a total of $5,000 in three contributions from the campaign committee of then-state Rep. Mike Veon (D-Beaver County), an outspoken advocate for gambling expansion in the state. The three payments in 2000 and 2002 made Veon one of James' largest contributors over the years.

I recorded Tuesday's budget hearing and placed Reichley's exchanges with Colins and Evans on That site limits video file sizes to 10 minutes, so I had to cut into two files. You can view them below.


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

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Saturday, February 09, 2008
Posted 4:59 PM by

Have lobbying and partisanship trumped public protection in Slotsylvania?

There's slots of bills pending to change Pennsylvania's fledgling gambling industry, including one that would stop their millions of dollars in lobbying.There are plenty of bills pending in Pennsylvania's Legislature that would have reformed the state's slot machine gambling law before the indictment of slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples last week.

None of them have yet to see the light of day, much less been voted upon.

And if ever two guys needed to be stuck in an elevator together to find common ground for the public good, it's state senators Jeffrey Piccola and Sean Logan.

Logan (D-Allegheny) voted for the law legalizing slot machine gambling (Act 71) in 2004, but introduced a bill on March 22, 2007, to stop the state's fledgling gambling industry from lobbying lawmakers and to prevent lobbyists from serving as a pass-through for outlawed campaign contributions.

In effect, Senate Bill 658 would shut off the spigot of millions of dollars being spent annually with no public scrutiny to influence legislators into expanding legalized gambling (see H.B. 2121) and who knows what else.

However, Logan's bill has gone nowhere since it was introduced, remaining stuck in the Senate's Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee.

Piccola (R-Dauphin), a former majority caucus administrator and whip, is a member of that committee and is no fan of the state's industry-written and hastily-passed slots law either - at least the way it exists currently.

Piccola voted against the slots law in 2004 and was one of 13 senators who fought in August 2006 for a package of 21 bills that would have: prohibited public officials and their families from holding any ownership interest in casino-related firms, created an entirely new Gaming Control Board with only five members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate, banned the board members from having any other salaried jobs, and rejected any slots license applicants who have felony criminal records (the 2004 slots law forgives convictions before 1991).

The senators urged the control board not to approve any more licenses - including one for DeNaples, a Dunmore billionaire who admitted a federal felony in 1978 - until their reform measures were heard. Some of them, including Piccola, even threatened to shut down the state government and all active casinos during budget wrangling in July 2007 to get their bills enacted.

They failed.

Piccola has since called DeNaples' indictment for lying to the control board about his allleged mob ties "a black eye on Pennsylvania" while standing on the floor of the Senate.

On Wednesday, the same day DeNaples was arraigned on the perjury charges, Piccola announced he will try again to reform the slots law.

Although his new bills have yet to be introduced, this time they appear far less sweeping. His proposed changes now include:

  • opening all portions of the application process relating to character and integrity of applicants, principals, and key employees to public scrutiny.

  • transferring the Gaming Board's Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement to the Office of the Attorney General (a move the state police commander has said won't make any difference)

  • requiring all applicants to make Freedom of Information Act requests regarding their criminal file and providing all documents obtained to the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement.

If Piccola wants to be seen as a true reformer, then why hasn't Logan's bill made it out of his committee? Is the fact that Logan is a Democrat, and Piccola is a Republican, the reason?

The chairperson of that committee is state Sen. Jane Earll (R-Erie), a former candidate for lieutenant governor who voted in favor of the slots law in 2004 but told Project Vote Smart that she is against expanding it to include riverboat gambling.

Earll stopped an effort last October 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."

Her refusal to act came after the FBI informed the control board that it wasn't a law enforcement agency and therefore could not see the information bureau agents had collected on DeNaples, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Logan's bill is not the only reform-minded measure stuck in Earll's committee. Also pigeonholed there is S.B. 856, which merely adds "former candidates" to the list barred from receiving direct campaign contributions from gambling interests.

I don't know how much money Earll has accepted in campaign contributions from gambling interests. The state's online database lists 1,177 contributions to her since Jan. 1, 2000, but many of the contributors's occupations and employers have been left blank.

She did receive a total of $875 from William J. Bleill, a consultant for First Presque Isle Corp. I don't know what relationship, if any that company has with MTR Gaming Group Inc., the parent company of Presque Isle Downs & Casino near Erie. Earll also accepted $175 from Edson R. Arneault, president, CEO and chairman of MTR.

Earll's committee is similarly stymieing:

  • S.B. 113, which would require the control board to take a public vote among all seven members - not just a supermajority consisting of the governor's appointee and four legislative appointees - on whether to take enforcement actions against a slots parlor license holder.

  • S.B. 423, which allows slots parlors to issue rewards cards to frequent gamblers, but also requiring each casino to issue monthly statements that list patrons' gaming winnings and losses.

  • S.B. 855, which requires all Gaming Control Board appointees to be confirmed by the Senate.

  • S.B. 600, which bars the Gaming Control Board from hiring relatives, requires all prospective board employees to submit their "complete criminal history" and to take a drug test, and subjects all control board employees "who, while on duty or off duty, engages in scandalous or disgraceful conduct which may bring the service of this Commonwealth into disrepute" to prompt disciplinary action and immediate suspension.

  • S.B. 1031 and S.B. 1032, which would prohibit the location of a slots parlor within 1,500 feet of a school, church or home.

None of those measures are nearly as controversial as S.B. 683, which state Sen. John Rafferty Jr. (R-Montgomery County) introduced on March 23, 2007. It would require a binding referendum be approved in any municipality where a slots parlor has been proposed.

Yet, none of those bills have moved out of Earll's committee in nearly a year.

Stumbling blocks toward reform are not limited to the state Senate and are not only being erected by Republicans.

On Jan. 30, 2007, state Rep. Michael O'Brien (D-Philadelphia) introduced House Bill 14, which like Sen. Rafferty's bill, would require approval of a slots parlor in a local binding referendum. It has been stuck in the House Committee on State Government ever since.

Bottled up in the House Committee on Gaming Oversight since March 6, 2007, is H.B. 567, which would prohibit further gambling expansion without the approval of a statewide referendum or by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly.

The chairman of the Gaming Oversight committee is Harold James (D-Philadelphia), who has been singled out for criticism by House Republicans for failing to move H.B. 1450. That bill would put the state police in charge of doing slots parlor licensee background checks (even though, again, the state police commander has said it won't make any difference).

James voted for the 2004 slots law. It was impossible to tell from the state's online database whether he received campaign contributions from gambling interests. It lists 337 contributions since Jan. 1, 2000, but many of the occupations, employers and even names have not been completed.

James' committee is also holding up:

  • H.B. 482, which would cut the pay of Gaming Control Board members to $64,178, except the chairman who would get $66,810. Currently, board members are paid $145,000 and the chairman gets $150,000. (There is currently no law or bill pending on what the board can pay its employees.)

  • H.B. 909, which would require an audit if a slots parlor fails to generate 85 percent of its anticipated revenue in a year.

  • H.B. 1181, which would reduce the potential number of stand-alone casinos from five to three.

  • H.B. 1477, which would prohibit the location of a slots parlor within 1,500 feet of a school, church or home.

  • H.B. 1715 and H.B. 1975, which would require $1.5 million to $3.5 million be transferred annually from the Pennsylvania Gaming Economic Development and Tourism Fund into the Compulsive and Problem Gambling Treatment Fund.

None of those measures are nearly as controversial as H.B. 2121, which would expand the state's definition of legalized gambling to include table games - including roulette, baccarat, blackjack, craps, big six wheel, mini-baccarat, red dog, pai gow, poker, twenty-one, acey-ducey, chuck-a-luck, fan-tail, panguingui, chemin de fer, sic bo, and any variations or composites of such games - in effect turning the slots parlors into full-fledged casinos.

The table games bill was introduced July 14, 2007, by Majority Floor Leader H. William DeWeese and immediately garnered 19 Democratic supporters. They include state representatives: James Wansacz (D-Lackawanna County), Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks County), Todd Eachus (D-Luzerne County), Florindo Fabrizio (D-Erie County), Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny County), Michael Gerber (D-Montgomery County), R. Ted Harhai (D-Fayette County), Patrick Harkins (D-Erie County), John Hornaman (D-Erie County), Deberah Kula (D-Fayette County), Frank Louis Oliver (D-Philadelphia County), John Pallone (D-Armstrong County), Eddie Pashinski (D-Luzerne County), Dante Santoni Jr. (D-Berks County), Frank Andrews Shimkus (D-Lackawanna County), John Siptroth (D-Monroe County), Majority Caucus Administrator Dan Surra (D-Clearfield County), Jesse White (D-Allegheny County), and Edward Wojnaroski Sr. (D-Cambria County).

House Bill 2121 would turn Pennsylvania's slot parlors into full fledged casinos.DeWeese has accepted 4,401 campaign contributions from individuals and political action committes since Jan. 1, 2000. Again, it's unclear from the state's online database how many came from gambling interests because many of the employers and occupations have been left blank.

Like the rest of the bills pending before the Gaming Oversight committee, DeWeese's table games bill has been tabled since it was first introduced.

But given the continued flow of lobbying money and in-direct campaign contributions to lawmakers, which bill do you think will pass first?

I can tell you this, DeNaples, who has said he never placed a bet in his life, predicted in 2006 that table games would be a reality within two years.

Finally, one slots gambling-related bill was introduced this week by state Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon) after Gov. Ed Rendell announced a state funding package designed to help lure a professional soccer team to the city of Chester .

H.B. 2225 would prohibit any money in the Gaming Economic Development and Tourism Fund from beng used for multipurpose recreational facilities or sports facilities.


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

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