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

Saturday, June 17, 2006
Posted 7:50 PM by

My dream Q&A with John Perzel

Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel simply doesn't understand the furur over last year's now-repealed legislative pay raise and still thinks lawmakers are underpaid.Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel put his pennyloafers in his mouth while defending last year's now-repealed legislative pay raise to a Harrisburg public television station on Thursday.

I haven't heard a comment this dumb since Gov. Ed Rendell said in April that he signed the pay raise because "If I didn't sign it, I might have been governor for the next five years but I would have gotten nothing done, literally, because I need the cooperation of the Legislature. ... So you have to kiss a little butt."

Anger over the pay raise is credited with the defeat of a sitting Supreme Court justice in November and for the ouster of 17 incumbent lawmakers - including the state's top two Republican senators - during last month's primary.

Yet, during a rare live interview on WITF-TV's "Smart Talk" public affairs program, Perzel proved he's not that smart by saying the 11 Republicans who lost primaries suffered mainly because the House did not tackle property taxes before the election, not because they voted for or accepted the 2005 pay raise.

Here's what I would have said had I been the host of the program:

"We have roughly 30-some members who can't apply for a credit card because their credit's so bad."

So we should give them more money to blow?

How the hell did they get elected? Perhaps that information should be made mandatory for elected officials.

Are any of them on the budget committee? Could you please name them.

Come to think of it, how the hell do you know? That information is privileged and its wrongful disclosure is a crime under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.

(Perzel's spokeswoman, Beth Williams, told the Associated Press on Friday the speaker was repeating "anecdotal information" given to him by a senior House official. She declined to identify the official and said Perzel did not know the names of legislators with supposed credit problems.)

"And I know a lot of people out there watching this show have the same exact problem."

But you'd tax us even more, nevertheless, and give yourselves a raise.

"When I see that a tattoo artist in the city of Philadelphia makes more than a legislator, I think there's a problem."

(Most tattoo artists told the Philadelphia Inquirer they don't make close to the $72,187 state legislators made this year, even though their raise was repealed.)

But they're creative artisans who work in the private sector and and actually produce something that the public wants.

John, you make $20,000 just for sitting on the board of the private prison management firm, GEO Group Inc, plus thousands more for every meeting you attend.

Why don't you give up that post to a tattoo artist? He could even be an inmates' representative on the board.

"I thought the members of the General Assembly were worth one-half of what a member of Congress makes."

If that's how you'll take your payment, get me a machete.

I'm sure there's few Congresspeople who wouldn't be missed if I David Copperfielded 'em.

Perzel told WITF that if he had it to do over again, he would make sure the pay raise was debated during the day rather than passed in the middle of the night.

He didn't mention anything about the fact that there was no public debate on the bill allowed.

Perzel also said the General Assembly has heard from constituents and "the public will never see another pay raise in their lifetimes."

The episode of "Smart Talk" will be rebroadcast Sunday at noon on WITF-TV.


To hear an MP3 of some of Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel's comments, click here.


Friday, June 16, 2006
Posted 9:27 PM by

Pa. property tax 'relief' bill needs fixing

A compromise property tax relief bill the governor loves, but noone else does, already needs fixing if it's to be imposed in time for next year's school board budgets.They were warned.

Before Pennsylvania lawmakers in the state House approved a property tax "reform" bill this week, one legislator questioned the bill's constitutionality and called for a vote on the matter.

I can't remember the man's name, wish I'd written it down, but he questioned the timing of a measure that would force the state's 501 school districts to reopen their 2006-07 budgest - many of which have already been adopted before the July 1 deadline.

The idea drew scorn and ridicule and the measure failed.

Turns out, though, he was right.

So now if Gov. Ed Rendell wants to pass the bill, and he said he does, the big guy needs another bill pushed through the Legislature to change the state-set deadline for school board budgets, the Associated Press reported Friday.

"We know that was an issue," said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Sam Smith.

That's just great.

All this, just so Fast Eddie and his clueless club can justify the slot machines they imposed on us two years ago - after taking millions in campaign contributions from gambling interests for years and trips, gifts and more from gambling lobbyists - while providing the barest modicum of tax relief in an election year.

As state Rep. Dick Stevenson, R-Mercer/Butler counties, put it in his press release Wednesday, it's simply "bad public policy to base one of the most important issues of the past decade (on) an industry that feeds upon people's vulnerabilities."

What a great lesson for the kids whose educations the slot machines are supposed to help pay.


Thursday, June 15, 2006
Posted 9:23 PM by

Pay cut for N.J. lawmakers makes sense

New Jersey state Senator Steve Sweeney put his money where his mouth is, literally, by proposing a 15 percent pay cut for legislators. Too bad his bill came a week after he pissed off union workers by asking them to make a similar sacrifice.Say what you will about state Senator Steve Sweeney's bill to cut the pay of New Jersey's 119 legislators by 15 percent, at least it sends the right message.

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Monica Yant Kinney may deem it grandstanding and humorous fodder. But I'll take Sweeney's proposal this week, Senate Bill 1966, at face value - even if it didn't find a single co-sponsor and he won't talk about it publically.

Earlier this month, Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Assemblymen Gerald Green (D-Union) and Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester) angered state worker unions by asking them to voluntarily accept up to $700 million in salary and benefit concessions to help avoid increasing the 6 percent state sales tax to 7 percent. The proposal would mean reopening their contracts with a year to go. Gov. Jon Corzine has called it unrealistic.

Tell that to the folks at Chrysler who, when faced with similarly tough times in the '80s, agreed to givebacks that saved the company.

Of course, New Jersey isn't a for-profit corporation, despite getting $1 billion a year in taxes from Atlantic City casinos.

But in a state facing massive program cuts and huge hikes in taxes just to offset a project $5 billion deficit, everybody should share some of the pain - not just the taxpayers

Since Sweeney proposed cutting the state workers' compensation by 15 percent, it makes sense, at least to most editorial writers, for the Assembly to set an example

Sweeney reluctantly agreed and introduced his bill Monday to cut lawmakers' pay from $49,000 to $41,650 in 2008 - the first year it could legally be applied. It's since been referred to Senate State Government Committee.

Contrast that to Pennsylvania, where the state is $1 billion in the black, but lawmakers gave license to school districts to raise income taxes this week in the name of property tax reform and to justify their middle-of-night legalizing of slot machine gambling with no public comment.

Oh, and lest I forget those same 253 legislators passed a massive pay hike for themselves a year ago in the dead of night, with no public comment and some even took the money early.

That is, until a public outcry forced a repeal in November and knocked a Supreme Court justice and 17 inscumbent lawmakers out of their lofty perches.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Posted 10:15 PM by

Pa. House passes property tax 'relief' bill

The bill slams working renters to give homeowners a small break. A better move would have been to use the near-$1 billion the state overtaxed residents this year to pay school district costs and lower property taxes.

House Bill 39 splits some of the state's slots revenue among property owners and elderly renters, but calls on working renters to give homeowners even more of a break on school property taxes.The same tax reform bill Pennsylvania House Republicans tabled a month ago, saying it didn't do enough to help property taxpayers, passed tonight by a 137-61 margin, and was sent to Gov. Ed Rendell.

House Bill 39 only guarantees that three-quarters of the $1 billion in expected revenue from the state's share of 63,000 slot machines at 14 parlor across the state will be used by the 501 school districts to reduce property taxes.

By Rendell's own estimate, it will save the average homeowner $200, but increase taxes by a lot more than that on working renters. The rest of the slots money will be used to expand a rent rebate program for seniors making less than $35,000.

The bill requires the districts to place a referendum on the primary ballot next year asking voters within their borders if they favor a 1 percent earned income tax or personal income tax, with its proceeds being used for further reducing property taxes.

If the referendum is approved, the district would then be limited to future tax increases based on the increase in the average of the statewide average weekly wage and the employment cost index.

To me, the bill is purely an election year ploy so some legislators and Rendell can say they gave $1 billion in tax relief to Pennsylvanians while justifying jamming slot machine gambling down our throats.

While the measure may finally set some limits on what school boards can spend and what teachers' unions can ask for, it slams workers who cannot afford to buy homes by shifting the burden onto them.

Nor is it any way real tax reform.

The Republican majority had wanted the House to consider separate legislation to further reduce property taxes by raising the state's 6 percent sales tax by either 1 percentage point or half a percentage point. Both proposals were voted down on Wednesday. To see how the lawmakers voted on H.B. 39, click here.

"Once people realize that there is no property tax reform, then it's going to come back on our shoulders to do something," said Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Cambria County. "We've come up with a big goose egg."

"It's better than nothing," countered state Rep. Camille George, D-Columbia County, saying it was like providing a sandwich to a hungry man.

But state Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny County, said, "It's more like a picture of a sandwich."

This from a Legislature that's sitting on an extra $187 million in operating funds?

This in a state, which hasn't met its obligation to fund half of local school district costs in decades (currently it pays 36 percent), but whose state budget this year had another $723 million more in revenue than it spent.

That means the state is already overtaxing its residents by almost another $1 billion.

The real reason legislators pushed for some form of tax relief was to justify legalizing slot machine gambling before the licenses get handed out in a few months and they must stand for reelection.Lawmakers should either give us that money back, cut state taxes or use that money to offset school property taxes by paying their full share of the costs, thereby giving local homeowners a real break.

Instead, Rendell and the Legislature plan to spend all that extra money and the only argument seems to be which state programs should get the largesse.


To read a few things you probably won't see in tomorrow's newspapers, including one lawmaker's swipe at the state Senate, click here.


Posted 10:14 PM by

Snippets from the House floor

It was hard to tell at one point whether I was watching the Pennsylvania House debate a property tax reform bill or a bad Phillies game on PCN tonight, judging from the amount of boos being shouted by lawmakers.

At one point, state Rep. Anthony DeLuca drew a round of raspberries for deriding House Bill 39. They only grew louder as he called the state Senate "a country club" and said, "The real work is done here."

I would have loved to have heard what came next, but PCN turned off the microphone.

House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese called the bill "the art of the compromise," but said he would still favor increasing the state's sales taxes to offset further decreases in property taxes.

"A percent or half-a-percent in sales tax would cut property taxes in Greene County by half," DeWeese said.

House Majority Leader Sam Smith oversaw the House the last time H.B. 39 came up for a vote and opted to table it saying, "We can do better than this bill." That's because heavy-handed House Speaker John Perzel was in Florida at the time, attending a board meeting of prison management firm GEO Group Inc. which hired him as a director.

"I'm a little disappointed we weren't able to achieve something more in the last few weeks," Smith told lawmakers.

However, he then said the debate surrounding the measure this week was "open and transparent" and done in "good faith.

"That's the way the people of Pennsylvania want us to run this House."


To read my take on House Bill 39 and what the Legislature did and didn't do, click here.


Posted 9:14 PM by

Congressional, Pa. legislative Web sites play hide-and-seek

Pennsylvania House Seaker John Perzel's lobbying reform bill was finally posted online Wednesday, a week after it was unveiled at a press conference, even though he plans to have it on Gov. Ed Rendell's desk by the end of the month.One week after Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel announced his lobbyist disclosure bill, the measure is finally online for voters to read - if they can find it - on the Legislature's Web site.

Perzel's proposal still isn't among the five categories of lobbyist bills listed on the Web site's topic index of pending legislation.

However, House Bill 2753, can be found by its number on a numerical index, and by searching the site for the keyword "lobby."

Although Perzel held a press conference last Wednesday to tout the virtues of his bill, "Bills are not given a number until they were introduced. It didn't get introduced until Monday evening," an aide to the lawmaker, who requested anonymity, told me today. "We were holding it for the people who wanted to co-sponsor it."

In the end, 94 of the 203 other state representatives asked to have their names appear atop Perzel's bill - including House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese.

One name conspicuously absent was that of state Rep. Gregory's Vitali. The Delaware County Democrat, long a proponent of lobbyist disclosure and other reform measures, called Perzel's bill "a major disappointment.

"Under this bill, the public still has no way to gauge the influence of lobbyists on individual legislators and the important issues they decide; there is no way for people to connect lobbyist spending with legislators or their votes; and no way to determine how the millions of dollars in special interest money being spent in Harrisburg is impacting policies on important issues such as education, gambling and tax reform," Vitali said in a press release.

"This legislation will not change the current culture in Harrisburg; it offers the illusion of reform, not real reform. It is much less substantive and effective than other lobbying reform bills that have already been passed by the General Assembly in previous years."

In Pennsylvania, that means it probably will become law.

Although Perzel has said he's open to suggestions for improving the legislation, he wants to have a lobbyist disclosure bill on Gov. Ed Rendell's desk by the end of the month. To track his bill's progress, click here.

Pennsylvania has been the only state in the nation without a lobbyist disclosure law since 2002, when the state Supreme Court struck down a 1998 law as unconstitional.

A state Senate rule has provided somewhat of a glimpse at what lobbyists are doing since 2003. Last year, 800 registered lobbyists spent $125 million to sway the state's 253 lawmakers.

And come July 1, under an order from Rendell any lobbyist who spends more than $2,500 to lobby the state's executive branch officers will have to disclose who they work for and how much they spent, not where the money went or why.

Still, that's more than what we know now about the hordes of lobbyists in Washington, D.C., hoping to sway Congress.

Although congressional lobbyists are required to electronically file their spending with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the public can only request to see those filings in person or with a Freedom of Information request by mail.

Lobbyists' expense reports are not available online. Neither are the financial disclosure forms members of Congress file annually. This year's forms were publically available for the first time Wednesday, but only to reporters and anyone willing to drive to the Capital.

Asked why they're not online like the forms Pennsylvania lawmakers and officials have to file, Jon Brandt, a spokesman for the U.S. House Administration Committee, said, "That's because Congress has not mandated they do that. That might be dealt with in some of the reform packages currently pending."

For an Associated Press synopsis of the financial disclosures of U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum and Senate hopeful Bob Casey Jr., click here.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Posted 11:16 PM by

They should have known better

Most Congressional Democrats from Pennsylvania voted to shoot down a move that might have made them go without their seventh annual cost-of-living increase, even though the federal minimum wage hasn't been raised in 10 years.

Democrats in the U.S. House voted to stymie a move from one of their own to block this year's cost of living increase - a $3,300 raise - at a time when they hope to retake the majority in the House. What the hell were they thinking?The great Jim Sachetti, editor of the Bloomsburg Press-Enterprise, once told me this about Pennsylvania government: "As screwed up as things are on the local level, multiply them by 100 and you've got Harrisburg. Multiply them by 1,000 and you have Washington, D.C."

Case in point, U.S. House lawmakers today embraced an automatic $3,300 pay raise that will increase their salaries to $168,500. The 2 percent cost-of-living raise would be the seventh straight for members of the House and Senate.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee surprisingly approved a hike in the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25, which would be the first increase in a decade. However, the committee's amendment to a bill funding health and education programs is likely to be stripped out when the measure comes to the House floor.

If you're keeping count that's rich lawmakers 7, the poorest Americans 0. A person working at the current minimum wage would have to put in 16 weeks (at 40 hours per week) just to gross $3,300 - the same amount as Congress' automatic raise.

In bitter irony, Congress' COLA was a trade-off as part of an ethics reform bill in 1989. In exchange for giving up their ability to accept pay for speeches, Congress made their own annual cost-of-living pay increases automatic unless they voted otherwise.

House members easily squelched a bid today by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, to get a direct vote to block the COLA.

A "yes" vote was a vote to prevent a direct vote on the pay raise. Voting yes were 119 Democrats and 130 Republicans. Voting no were 74 Democrats, 92 Republicans and one independent.

After watching state lawmakers catch hell in May's primary for voting themselves a now-repealed pay raise last year, you would have thought Congresspeople from Pennsylvania would have taken a hint from their angry constituents.

Most did - but split, of course, along mostly party lines.

Of the 19 members from Pennsylvania, 10 Republicans and two Democrats voted no, but five Democrats and one Republican voted yes.

Let me be the first to say, "What the hell were the Democrats thinking?"

If the minority party has any hope of ever taking back the House, it can't do stupid things like this and expect the public won't notice.

Here's how they voted:

U.S. Rep. Robert A. Brady (D - 01) - Yes
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D - 02) - Yes
U.S. Rep. Phil English (R - 03) - Yes
U.S. Rep. Melissa A. Hart (R - 04) - No
U.S. Rep. John E. Peterson (R - 05) - No
U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R - 06) - No
U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon (R - 07) - Did not vote
U.S. Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R - 08) - No
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R - 09) - No
U.S. Rep. Donald Sherwood (R - 10) - No
U.S. Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski (D - 11) - Yes
U.S. Rep. John P. Murtha (D - 12) - Yes
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D - 13) - No
U.S. Rep. Michael F. Doyle (D - 14) - Yes
U.S. Rep. Charles W. Dent (R - 15) - No
U.S. Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R - 16) - No
U.S. Rep. Tim Holden (D - 17) - No
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R - 18) - No
U.S. Rep. Todd R. Platts (R - 19) - No


To write any of the yes voters, click here.


Monday, June 12, 2006
Posted 9:15 PM by

Common Cause's pay raise suit tossed by federal judge

U.S. District Judge Yvette tossed Common Cause's federal lawsuit over last year's legislative pay raise, saying the group lacked standing, was in the wrong court and the issue was decided when the Legislature repealed the law in November. The group may appeal.A federal judge has thrown out Common Cause's lawsuit alleging collusion between Pennsylvania's Supreme Court and the Legislature in exchange for last year's now-repealed pay raise.

In a well supported 36-page opinion, that often cited cases limiting federal involvement in state court matters, U.S. Middle District Judge Yvette Kane dismissed the good government group's case without prejudice Monday, saying the repeal "rendered moot plaintiffs' claims calling for the (pay raise) Act to be declared unconstitutional."

As a layman with no direct involvement in the case, other than being a Common Cause member, I could find no fault with Kane's logic.

But lawyers for Common Cause of Pennsylvania found plenty, said Barry Kauffman, the group's executive director.

"We've talked to our attorneys and they feel there's enormous potential for appeal," Kauffman said. "She's clearly misapplied the law."

I'm not so sure.

I can say the judge's unwillingness to take an activist position, despite some pretty clear and convincing evidence of wrongdoing at the state level, has me worried for the future of our Democracy. Especially now that President George Bush has stacked the federal benches with conservative Republicans who share his taste for limiting the scope of judicial opinions.

For instance, at one point Kane cites a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in which Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "If a dispute is not a proper case or controversy, the courts have no business deciding it or expounding the law in the course of doing so."

In short, if every 'I' is not dotted and 'T' crossed, a federal court should dismiss a case out of hand. So much for the naive idea that any man can take his case to the Supreme Court in this country without a lawyer - or even a battery of 'em.

The lawsuit Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, Democracy Rising's Tim Potts and others filed in October alleged legislative leaders, Gov. Ed Rendell and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph Cappy violated federal and state constitutional rights by secretly negotiating the pay raise law and then pushing it through the state Legislature at 2 a.m. on July 7 without public notice or debate.

The pay hike applied to not only the Legislature, but to all judges in the state and most of the top executive branch officers as well.

"They plainly violated the state Constitution," Potts said, noting provisions within it require three-days of public comment to prevent a bill from being railroaded into law the way the last year's pay raise and 2004's law legalizing slot machines were passed.

"My freedom of political speech was denied and there was no way I could influence this legislation, despite the most diligent of efforts," Potts said.

One by one, though, Kane reviewed the standing of each of the plaintiffs and found each lacked sufficient proof of Constitutional harm to let the case continue.

"The Court has already found that such a generalized claim does not constitute the kind of individual, particularized injury necessary to find standing under Article III (of the Constitution)," Kane wrote. "No matter how sincere or vital to the preservation of an informed electorate, Plaintiff organizations' longstanding interest in the political problems at issue in this case do not operate alone to give them standing to litigate this dispute. Accordingly, the Court cannot find that either organization or association has the requisite standing to bring this action in federal court."

Common Cause had sought an injunction barring the state Supreme Court from ruling on three cases before it involving the pay raise - two from judges who want their pay hikes restored, the third from taxpayer advocate Gene Stilp seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional.

They claimed no judge or justice in Pennsylvania could objectively rule on a case affecting their own pay.

However, Kane wrote that the request for an injunction was brought in the wrong court, concluding that "only the United States Supreme Court has such authority.

"Plaintiffs' claim that access to the courts is denied because the state judiciary is incapable of dispassionate review finds no factual or legal support. Although Plaintiffs may prefer a different forum, the doctrine of necessity, long-recognized by Pennsylvania and federal courts, permits the Pennsylvania courts to hear Plaintiffs' claims. The doctrine of necessity provides that a court may decide a case, even though its members have a financial interest, when the claim could not otherwise be reviewed in any court."

Potts said such a ruling puts Pennsylvania citizens in a Catch-22 because, "Any time the Legislature and the court don't want a review, they can make it into a case where a doctrine of necessity applies."

Kane also wrote, "Plaintiffs would have this court interfere with and superintend the future conduct of elected officials of a sovereign state in fulfilling the obligations of their respective offices - before such officials have enacted any legislation or taken any official action."

But Kauffman said, "We never asked the courts to superintend the state court. In this case, improper conversations on legislation led to a violation of due process. We have a right to have our representatives represent our interests. You can't separate the pieces you have to look at them as a whole. Somebody's gotta stand up and say enough is enough."

Kane concluded her written opinion by saying, "For better or worse, the matters of which Plaintiffs complain belong to the political and electoral process. For over two hundred years, our people have trusted these processes to restrain their officials from abusing the power of office and making a mockery of our laws. It is not for this Court to alter the course of history now."

John P. Krill Jr., a lawyer for state Senate Republican leaders David J. Brightbill and Robert C. Jubelirer, told the Associated Press the groups tried "to have the federal courts become superintendent of how the democratic process works in a state government - that is an elitist concept, to resort to the courts when you can't get what you want politically."

Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ralph Cappy said the allegations against him and the other defendants were "false and reckless" and called Kane's dismissal of the lawsuit "gratifying."

"In the final analysis, the lawsuit offered no credible supporting evidence nor did its arguments have any sound basis in law," the chief justice said in a statement issued through the court administrator's office.

Potts said he hopes the groups can appeal, but added, "I'm not at all adverse to pushing their recourse to the max at the next election."

Kauffman said the groups can now either ask the judge to reconsider or appeal her decision to the Third Circuit of Appeals in Philadelphia. He plans to meet with officials from Common Cause's national organization and those of other groups before deciding their next move.

He also cautioned reform-minded voters and rank-and-file legislators not to lose heart by the ruling. "The reform movement has been emboldened because they know the public is behind them," Kauffman said. "This may be a temporary speed bump."


To read Judge Yvette Kane's opinion (150 KB pdf), click here.


Sunday, June 11, 2006
Posted 11:15 PM by

DeNaples: A shy, charitable billionaire felon

The richest man in Northeastern Pennsylvania predicts the state will have seven full casinos, including table games, within two years.

Louis DeNaples, who says he has never gambled, became a billionaire building on the scraps others threw away. He forsees full casino gambling in Pennsylvania within two years and wants a piece of the action.An interesting series of stories ran today in the Scranton Times-Tribune detailing the life and financial times of Dunmore businessman and slots hopeful Louis DeNaples.

One story, "From wrecks to riches," traces his climb from being the being the ninth child of an impoverished Scranton PennDOT worker to the possibly Northeastern Pennsylvania's richest person thanks to salvaging auto parts from junked cars.

DeNaples, 65, now reportedly has a net worth of $1.5 billion, owns, operates or has an interest in more than 200 companies, directly employs about 600 people, and is the largest landowner in Lackawanna County and one of the largest in the region.

He is also one of two applicants for a slots machine license in the Poconos. He purchased the former Mount Airy Lodge and plans to spend about $360 million developing it into a casino.

This from a guy who claims never to have gambled, not even on a lottery ticket.

But he knows an opportunity when he sees one, and DeNaples is predicting that "within two years" the state will be licensing table games in addition to slot machines.

It will issue seven casino licenses - five standalones and two for resorts," DeNaples told the newspaper. He sees an industry easily netting $1 billion in gross revenues and does not anticipate that any other licenses will be issued.

And he's pulling out all stops to come out on top.

Asked why he has reportedly given more than $1 million to the state's top politicians between 2000 and 2005, DeNaples said, "It's more like building a customer base and spreading goodwill. It's business."

In "DeNaples: mob links simply don't add up," the newspaper details his federal felony record and alleged ties to organized crime.

DeNaples pleaded no contest to felony fraud in 1978 after a federal jury could not reach a verdict on charges he tried to defraud the government out of $525,000 in the wake of Tropical Storm Agnes. He received a suspended sentence.

In 1990, the now-defunct Pennsylvania Crime Commission reported James Osticco, underboss of the Buffalino crime family, bribed the husband of a juror to hold out for acquittal in the trial.

DeNaples blames it all on bad recordkeeping by Lackawanna County in the months after the storm left the region inundated and said, "Aside from the flood thing, you won't find so much as a parking ticket."

As for those who believe he has unproven ties to the mob, DeNaples said, "What am I going to do? Am I going to argue with them? Fight with them? Sue them? There's nothing I can do about them. I just give it to God and let him deal with them. That's all I can do.

"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?"

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