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

Friday, March 28, 2008
Posted 9:06 PM by

Reputed mob boss likely turning state's evidence in Slotsylvania

Mob boss Bill D'Elia has apparently copped a plea to testify against slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.I've long dreaded this weird, but important moment in Slotsylvania history - and I'm not talking about the nation's temporary focus on this state for the heated Democratic primary in the U.S. presidential race.

Reputed Northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss Billy D'Elia pleaded guilty today to just one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of witness tampering. He had been facing nearly two dozen counts as a result of a federal investigation.

D'Elia, 61, was charged in May 2006 with laundering hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug proceeds and five months later additional charges were added after he tried to have a witness in the case killed.

His attorney, James Swetz, declined to tell the Associated Press whether there was a plea agreement or whether D'Elia agreed to cooperate in other cases.

However, D'Elia has testified once already, in front of a Dauphin County grand jury last year. It then recommended perjury charges against Mount Airy Casino Resort owner Louis DeNaples and took the unusual step of asking for reforms to the state's slots gambling system.

The DeNaples case is beginning to rock Slotsylvania to its political core, leading some Republican state lawmakers to call for a special bipartisan committee with subpoena power to investigate his licensing.

Indicted slots parlor owner Louis DeNaples.The Dunmore billionaire and former federal felon reportedly gave more than $1.1 million to the state's top politicians - including at least $115,000 to Gov. Ed Rendell, at least $35,000 to state Attorney General Tom Corbett and hundreds of thousands more to key lawmakers and party groups on both sides of the aisle, including some publicly opposed to slot machines - to get slots gambling legalized in 2004 and to buy enough influence to get his own license two years later.

Asked by the Scranton Times-Tribune in 2006 why he gave so many campaign contributions to the state's top brass, the landfill owner, banker and auto parts dealer replied, "It's more like building a customer base and spreading goodwill. It's business."

To date, the governor and the state's top prosecutor have publicly refused to return DeNaples' money, saying through their government-hired spokesmen that DeNaples is innocent until proven guilty.

Meanwhile, DeNaples spent $67,375 last year on lobbyists to sway lawmakers into passing a bill to turn the state's 14 slots parlors into full fledged casinos. That bill, H.B. 2121, was written by House Majority Leader H. William DeWeese but has been stuck in the Gaming Oversight Committee for more than a year.

Corbett and his seven-attorney government corruption unit are not prosecuting DeNaples. Instead, Corbett says he let Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marisco do it.

DeNaples, 67, has long been rumored to have had mob connections, and was even cited in a report of the now-defunct Pennsylvania Crime Commission. He has denied any wrong doing.

DeNaples has hired high-priced lawyers and a spokesman with ties to the governor to defend him. They've launched a public smear campaign with lead defense attorney, Richard Sprague of Philadelphia, citing grand jury leaks to the media as proof Marsico is headline grabbing. The county prosecutor denies the assertion.

Swetz, D'Elia's attorney, has previously said his client would have been willing to testify before the Gaming Control Board before DeNaples was licensed, but was never subpoenaed.

Tad DeckerFormer control board chairman Tad Decker, a college buddy of Gov. Rendell who appointed him, has said he was told D'Elia would refuse to cooperate if called, but refused to say who told him.

Decker has also publicly denied testimony from state police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller that he knew or should have known state police were investigating DeNaples for perjury before the Gaming Control Board voted unanimously to grant him a license on Dec. 20, 2006.

Decker's old law firm, Cozen O'Connor, which he has since returned to head, was subsequently hired by DeNaples to handle the financing of his slots parlor.

DeNaples was indicted Jan. 30, 2008, three months after opening his $412 million slots parlor at the site of the former Mount Airy Lodge, a once-famous lover's resort. The Gaming Control Board has since barred DeNaples from his own casino and his share of its proceeds until the charges are resolved.

The grand jury found DeNaples lied to the control board behind closed doors about his relationship with D'Elia; D'Elia's former boss, the late mafia don Russell Bufalino; and two corrupt political fixers in Philadelphia, based partly upon D'Elia's testimony and federal wiretaps.

D'Elia is said to be a mediator among mob families. The Feds say he met frequently with Philadelphia mobsters and had frequent contacts with western Pennsylvania and New York families.

DeNaples told the Gaming Control Board that he and D'Elia were merely acquaintances. But D'Elia told the grand jury they've been long-time friends, even to the point where DeNaples attended his daughter's wedding.

Attorneys for DeNaples dispute D'Elia's assertion, claiming he lied to the grand jury. As proof, Sprague has cited D'Elia's claim that DeNaples gave him his late father's rosary beads as a symbol of their friendship. The beads were buried with the elder DeNaples, Sprague told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DeNaples' spokesman, Kevin Feeley, on Friday accused prosecutors of giving D'Elia a sweetheart deal in exchange for his testimony against DeNaples.

"It's clear to us that he's getting a deal to cooperate because he's the foundation of their case," Feeley said. "It is stunning that the government would agree to give a deal to a guy who allegedly tried to murder a witness."

Feeley also called D'Elia a liar. "It's clear he's willing to say anything if it helps him get a deal."

U.S. Attorney Martin Carlson declined to respond to Feeley's accusations Friday, issuing a press release that thanked state and federal law enforcement officials but said little about D'Elia's plea. He cited "sealing orders" entered by the court as his reason.

DeNaples' perjury case has yet to be scheduled for trial. His attorneys have asked the state Supreme Court to intervene, arguing Marsico overstepped his authority and the grand jury that issued the indictment was not properly empanelled.

D'Elia will be sentenced in June, when we may find out what, if any, deal he cut. He now faces up to 30 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

On DeNaples' legal team, but away from the criminal case involving DeNaples, are four former federal prosecutors.

One of them is former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Cognetti Jr., who successfully prosecuted DeNaples for a government fraud conspiracy 30 years ago. He is now defending DeNaples' friend, the Rev. Joseph Sica, who also faces perjury charges. The grand jury claimed the Scranton priest lied to them about DeNaples' mob ties.

Former U.S. Attorney Tom MarinoDeNaples also hired former U.S. Attorney Tom Marino, Carlson's predecessor. who was supposed to be building a federal case against DeNaples in 2006 when he secretedly vouched for his good character as a law enforcement reference on DeNaples' slots parlor license.

Marino recused himself from the federal probe when word of his support of DeNaples leaked last year. He later resigned to take a job as DeNaples' in-house counsel.

DeNaples also hired Peter Vaira, a former U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, and J. Alan Johnson, a former U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, to assure the control board that DeNaples had no relationships with organized crime figures.


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

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

 |  2 comments  |  |  RSS Feed | Add to Technorati Favorites

This Week's Rants | The Daily Rant Archives

Creative Commons License
The Daily Rant by Dave Ralis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.